As a reader there are times when I’m faced with a choice, to either continue reading a book with a hope that I will eventually settle in to the narrative, or give it up and move on to the next one. With Delhi A Soliloquy, I convinced and cajoled myself to keep at it for over a week. Very recently I stopped reading Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of Small Things’ and I didn’t want to set a mental block against Malayali writers by giving up on Delhi A Soliloquy too.
Having read 250 pages of a long 500-page novel, I am at my wits end with this extremely boring and confused piece of literature. I really tried to see Delhi through Mukundan’s eyes but he didn’t make it easy or interesting. The book read as a monologue focussing on abject poverty, the regressive North Indian community, the tightly-knit Malayali community in a post-Independence Delhi and the daily survival battles faced by the immigrant population.
The book is narrated from Sahadevan’s point of view, a young boy who moves from Kerala to Delhi in search of a good life. Over the years, he comes across immigrants scattered across the capital city, all struggling in their own ways. The book is about his journey forging friendships, and finding his own people in a strange city. In the immigrant mix, there is a maverick artist from a well-to-do family who insists on living as a homeless, a young call girl harbouring dreams of reuniting with her lover, a widow struggling to bring her kids up respectfully, and Sahadevan who seems to be everywhere, at all times. There are of course other characters that act as fillers as the main cast slide in and out every few pages.
Delhi A Soliloquy is filled with stereotypes. I don’t identify myself as someone from a particular religion or cast and therefore it was easy to let these slide. I think that says a lot about me as a reader, but what does it say about the writer? My guess is that since originally this book was written in Malyalam and only recently was translated to English, it was intended for the Malayali community only; to build camaraderie and to engage in mutual pity for the big city that took away dreams, virtue and any ounce of self respect.
As I write this review, I can see how my words can be misconstrued as opinionated and coming from a place of privilege. However, I have nothing against the content of the book and everything against the writing and delivery of the said content. The book reads as a monotone. An emotional moment or a situation lasts for a few seconds before abruptly coming to an end. A smarter writer could have easily built up moments to hit the right chord with his reader. Perhaps, Mukundan would have benefitted from reading literature that brings out the plight of the immigrant community in a manner that resonates with the reader.