I’m quite a fan of Pinki Virani’s earlier work – Once was Bombay, so there might be a bit of a bias here.
‘Deaf heaven’ is billed as her first work of fiction, but is perhaps as close to non-fiction as it can get. The characters are clearly based on the contemporary personalities – from movie stars to politicians, and the descriptions are such that a little knowledge can easily help you identify them – the ‘caterpillar -eyebrows’ actress to the leader of the saffron army, to the famous film star and his wannabe famous son and the lesbian maker of daily soaps. See?
The narrator is the cleft lipped and recently dead Saraswati, librarian by profession and collector of facts. Over a weekend, with an eclipse that serves as a climax for the multiple narratives, she traces the lives of the characters, a mixture of the famous and the ordinary, connected to each other by varying degrees of separation.
The book is a commentary on modern India and its mixture of contradictions, with representatives from different geographies, strata in life, age, and religion. Though primarily a woman’s perspective, the author manages to tackle the paradoxes of the emerging superpower – from female infanticide (and an ingenious way of communicating the unborn child’s gender – an illegal act), and tribal exploitation, to the mechanics of religion-politics, the effect of chemicals on vultures and the ‘death by railway track’ on Mumbai’s famed local trains, all interconnected, just like the characters.
Though a preachy tone does dominate the last part of the book, it is definitely a must read, not just for the pertinent and fundamental questions the author makes us think about, but also for her razor sharp wit.