Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"The City of Devi"

Manil Suri was born in Bombay and is a professor of mathematics and affiliate professor of Asian studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of the novels The Death of Vishnu, The Age of Shiva, and The City of Devi. His fiction has won several awards and honors and has been translated into twenty-seven languages. He was named by Time Magazine as a “Person to Watch” in 2000. He is a citizen of both the United States and India.

Suri applied the Page 69 Test to The City of Devi and reported the following:
Page 69 is part of the scene where Sarita, trying to escape an enemy plane strafing the deserted streets of Mumbai, takes shelter in an aquarium cafĂ©. She encounters the watchman there, and slowly realizes he has eaten most of the fish under his charge. Quite hungry herself, she pays him to catch and cook up one of the last fish in the display cases. However, he’s very stingy with the oil, and it ends up tasting terrible. He tells her to return the next day – she can eat for free if she helps him catch the last remaining baby shark in the aquarium, which he promises will have better flavor.

The scene is quite perfect in expressing the surreal quality that I tried to infuse throughout the book. Sarita is looking for her husband who has mysteriously disappeared in the midst of a war between India and Pakistan, and most of Mumbai’s population has fled under a nuclear threat. Which might sound very grim, except that I’ve aimed for comedy, tried to bring out the absurdness in every situation. The few people who’re left go about their business worrying about such mundane things like cell phones and jewelry, they lose no opportunity to snub those lower in social standing, and generally display all the prejudices, insecurities and weaknesses that make them human. If there’s no food available, and you’re guarding fish, why not eat them? What could be more logical?
Learn more about the book and author at Manil Suri's website.

Read about Manil Suri's top ten books about Mumbai.

--Marshal Zeringue