“The Silver Castle” by Clive James is an attempt to describe life in Mumbai as seen by a foreigner. Set in and around the bollywood of ‘90s, the story certainly had potential.
|Book Title||:||The Silver Castle|
|Publisher||:||Random House (First U.S. Edition)|
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We meet Sanjay in a slum of Mumbai, who happens to visit a film set called “The Silver Castle” while he is very young. Soon after, he deserts his family and becomes one of the numerous street children of Mumbai. From there, the writer traces his journey as he moves from one location to another, one small thief to a bigger thief, in search of a shelter and means of survival.
As a teenager, he receives some education from a missionary initiative for the homeless children. He is intelligent and is therefore given an opportunity of extended education, as he is taught by Pratiba, a volunteer girl from a well-to-do family. Along with learning English, Sanjay and Pratiba also learn a few lessons in each other’s anatomy, are invariably caught and he is expelled. In parallel, he is also courting a girl called Urmila and earning some money by giving himself to pervert Arabs and later Englishmen. Englishmen falling in love with Indian guys seems to be something that re-appers in books like “A Passage to India” and movies like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.
A huge source of information and entertainment in Sanjay’s life is the film magazines. If you are old enough to have lived in that era, when globalisation was new and Bollywood had just received the new lot of heroines who were happy to bare-it-all, you will remember the glossy magazines which fuelled up the rumours and brought the lights of the tinsel town to every corner shop. The writer does a good job of picking authentic pieces of information from those magazines. By the combination of his quickness and some luck, Sanjay actually manages to lend small roles as extra in the films. He meets the star of yester years’ Miranda and becomes her toy-boy.
While life is comfortable beyond dreams for him, he is still ill-informed and barely educated. His ambitions now comprise of becoming a stuntman in Bollywood movies and become a real life hero of a leading lady by name of Mumtas. Like all dreams end, his also does, leaving him a cripple and good-for-nothing.
You would think, there is so much potential in the story, but it is all wasted in descriptions of useless activities of Sanjay’s life where he comes across as someone who would be actually grateful to people that exploited him. His rise and fall happens so rapidly that you feel lost and cheated. As much as the author would like to believe that he understands India and Mumbai, the story fails to touch even a few of the aspects of the multi-faceted diamond that India and especially Mumbai is. India is so bewildering and confusing to a western eye and there is only so much that one can see in a few years spent here that it is not a surprise.
Nevertheless, if you feel nostalgic about the early nineties, and miss the Bollywood gossip in print, this is a book for you. Wouldn’t take much time though………………