Sacred Games is one of those books you immerse yourself in, a passport to an alien world and, like life, you imagine it could go on forever. It envisions a world — an underworld, actually — that is complete, persuasive and startlingly original. Many of those who have written most compellingly about the Indian subcontinent, from Rudyard Kipling to Salman Rushdie, have demonstrated a powerful knack for applying miniaturist detail to epic-size histories.
It is, more than anything else, literary magic… Sacred Games is monstrously entertaining, conjuring images of a literary duet between John Irving and Vikram Seth with a dollop of Mario Puzo thrown in for good measure… Expect critics and readers to gush over Gaitonde as soon as they get their hands on Sacred Games.
He is a stunning creation: a real-life monster… Chandra prefers pointillism to broad strokes, adopting the Tolstoyan method many attempt but few achieve… Chandra himself never lacks for style — or substance. Without seeming to break a sweat in the broiling heat of Mumbai, he gathers up the bursting city without turning eloquence into grandiloquence.
Social mores, dirty jokes, and idiosyncrasy abound… [ Sacred Games ] is the rarest of creations, an irresistible story that you simply cannot keep out of your head, one that entertains long after you have stayed up too late reading.
Go ahead. Close the book, turn out the lights. Even then, Ganesh Gaitonde, Sartaj Singh, and their many friends and enemies will whisper in your ear, beckoning from Mumbai and its jarring, joyous madness. Each one has his or her own story, and those stories together create a compelling picture of a unique place. At the same time, each story is also an integral part of the plot. Those stories, those glimpses at the myriad subgroups that comprise the city and those uniquely individual people who are drawn into the investigation, give the story its great resonance and depth… Sacred Games is a superb book, one that will take you into an exotic and fascinating place and tell you a great story.
The novel opens with the spiteful killing of a white Pomeranian named Fluffy. This is perhaps Mr. Ostensibly a detective novel, in which a lurid panoply of murders unfurls in gruesome detail, Sacred Games , despite its length, is compulsively readable. Clever as the plot and subplots are, the characters carry the narrative.
Sartaj Singh, the detective who figured in Mr. Even the side stories, such as the passing anecdote of Talpade, a policeman who falls chastely in love with a saloon dancer named Kukoo and comes to grief, linger in the memory. Chandra makes no concessions to the non-Indian reader, but this somehow strengthens his novel… Despite initial puzzlement, this too works. For while stories link the characters, from the poor in their hovels to the rich in their high-rises, the smutty aura of Mumbai arises from the prose itself.
To re-create a city Mr. Chandra has fashioned a language equal to it, a promiscuous English open to all comers, as greedy and as vivid as Mumbai itself. Chandra has decided he is going to wave with a beckoning finger to a world only he can show. So is the exotic setting. Like Dickens before him, Chandra has blended a blood-and-thunder page-turner with an exhaustive and illuminating anatomy of a society.
Nothing is left untouched — including the reader. Chandra is a prodigiously talented wordsmith with passion and boundless aspiration, and his intent here is obvious: Sacred Games is his ambitious, ostentatious shot at the Great Indian Novel. It is an extraordinary work of fiction and a literary accomplishment of the highest order — artful, educational, and one-of-a-kind… Sacred Games overflows with turbulent narrative, mountains of breathtaking prose, and more than a few too many characters the two-page dramatis personae at the front makes for a nice disclaimer.
Yet this riotous miscellany ultimately coalesces into a whole that comes exquisitely close to encapsulating the voluminous essence of a fascinating land. Great sheets of characterization wash over the reader like monsoon rains, but all the characters, and there are dozens, ring absolutely true. Whatever challenge Sacred Games presents to Western readers, the payoff is grand and satisfying.
Chandra brilliantly evokes a diverse slice of the population of Mumbai, a city that comes alive in Sacred Games in all its vibrant chaos… Perhaps Mr. Like a sculptor making small, delicate chips in stone, Chandra moves things along at a measured pace, building his characters, finding glorious little details in the minutiae of everyday Bombay life, yet remaining sharply focused on the main thrust of his detective story. Many of the characters in Sacred Games fantasize the destruction of their own city, as if governed by a collective death wish.
But this death wish reaches truly phantasmagoric proportions when Guru-ji plans to unleash nuclear fire on Bombay. Thus the two parallel narrative lines that Gaitonde and Sartaj inhabit become fused; across the thick of time and space the cop and the gangster become, in a sense, allies in their attempt to save Bombay from annihilation. What we get here is an occult history worthy of Borges. I trained her, I taught her tradecraft, analysis, recognition, action.
I drew her into the secret world, into our troubles, into the web of secret causes. Solving the crime is important, but he also hands us the keys to the city and reveals its sordid mysteries. Once in a while you find a book that sucks you so thoroughly into the world it creates that each time you slip your bookmark between the pages and close the cover, you come up blinking, surprised to find yourself in your own skin again.
Sacred Games can be read and enjoyed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. He clearly loves Mumbai and evokes it in dazzling detail: You can smell the streets, taste the foods and hear the cacophony of the big, chaotic city on every page.
And through his evocation of the Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians who interact with each other in this crowded nation, we see how old wounds and new hurts can spark into sudden violence. In the pages of Sacred Games , Chandra has a lot of space to stretch out. He uses it to show how the strands of people bound together through family, loyalty or simple geography weave a web that is as interconnected as it is inescapable.
Sacred Games is a superb book, one that will take you into an exotic and fascinating place and tell you a great story. Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra is one of those books. Who wants to eat, go to the bathroom, sleep, go to work, or any number of other trivial matters when you could be reading Sacred Games? Not just by a physical description either, but by the look in their eyes, the manner in which an emotion affects them, and by the energy they exude. Sacred Games is a magnificent book in all the meanings of that word.
Sacred Games is storytelling at its very peak. The book is filled with non-English words a mix of Hindi and Marathi, for the most part. There are knowing references to yaars and chaavis, to bastis and kholis; many of the terms will be incomprehensible to people from, say, the south of India, let alone the California where Chandra teaches creative writing at UC Berkeley. Here, then, is an India being offered on its own terms to the reader, who may be Indian or non-Indian; familiar or unfamiliar with the country; and significantly — a reader whose identity is not key to the creation of the work.
Self-assured and confident about its audience, the narrative never pauses to elaborate upon its many references to events in Indian history, the Bombay film industry, or even Indian street food…. This thrilling, epic work is nothing less than a kick to the seat of the pants of recent Indian literature…. Of course, if we lived in a just universe, the book would suffice to create the buzz.
Sacred Games will be talked for a long time yet, and for years to come may be the measuring stick for many books based in India. Ginger Haycox, Blogcritics. Chandra takes you inside the world of a Bombay cop.
One of the most exhilarating reads of Mumbai is the show-stealing backdrop to this complex literary thriller, seven years in the writing and pages long.
A bewildering feeling that violence, poetry, hope, destruction and love all come together in this epic-of-sorts, to create a throbbing portrait of a city caught in the swirl of history…. The wide scope of the novel is completed leisurely, in satisfying physical and atmospheric detail, and a kind of gleeful pinning down of the right word at the right time… You grow into the story, and the stories coiled within it, into the restlessness of the characters, trapped as they are by some ghost, some vulnerability.
The language is remarkably elastic, bringing a grainy, coarse texture to the narrative, as well as a moving poetry. What a great reading experience, intimate and over-the-top at the same time. This is going to be a lot of fun to sell, and perfect for those long nights in January.
Sacred Games is truly a marvelous book. Vikram Chandra is a weaver. He has created a richly drawn, finely detailed, intricately layered tapestry of post-colonial life in India… This is a suspense and intrigue-filled cops and gangsters story of great substance set against the backdrop of contemporary India and the profound difficulties it faces in the world today.
With a gorgeous prose style, completely engaging characters and a twisting, suspenseful plot, this is a novel that seems short at pages! Sacred Games far surpassed my expectations. Chandra has captured that electrifying, addictive quality of India.
A lush, sprawling novel of lives both large and small… beautifully written and constructed, this exceptional novel is both fast moving and profound.
It is an impressive work of surprising and sublime resonance which remains with the reader long after the last page is turned. It has been a long time since a novel has gripped me from the first sentence. It is Victorian in scope and also surreal in description… [ Sacred Games ] is great storytelling transcended by bigger concerns of universal and very contemporary concerns. Sartaj sat at the desk next to Kamble and flipped open a copy of the Indian Express.
Two members of the Gaitonde gang had been shot to death in an encounter with the Flying Squad in Bhayander. The police had acted on received intelligence and intercepted the two as they proceeded to a factory office in that locality; the two extortionists had been hailed and told to surrender, but they had instantly fired at the squad, who then retaliated, et cetera, et cetera.
There was a colour photograph of plain-clothes men bending over two oblong red stains on the ground. In other news, there had been two break-ins in Andheri East, one in Worli, and this last one had ended in the fatal stabbing of a young couple. As Sartaj read, he could hear the elderly man sitting across from Kamble talking about slow death. His eighty-year-old mausi had fallen down a flight of stairs and broken her hip.
They had checked her into the Shivsagar Polyclinic, where she had borne with her usual stoicism the unrelenting pain in her old bones. But when the pressure ulcers flowered their deep red wounds on her arms and shoulders and back, even she had said, perhaps it is time for me to die. The elderly man had never heard her say anything of the like, but now she groaned, I want to die. And it took her twenty-two days to find relief, twenty-two days before blessed darkness. If you had seen her, the elderly man said, you too would have cried.
Kamble was flipping pages in a register. The handwritten note on Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation stationery would say that the police were satisfied that the death in question was natural, that there was no foul play involved, that the body could be released to relatives for disposal. This was supposed to prevent murders — dowry killings and suchlike — from being passed off as accidents, and Police Sub Inspector Kamble was supposed to sign it on behalf of the ever watchful, khaki-clad guardians of Mumbai, but he had it sitting next to his elbow and he was studiously scribbling in his register.
The elderly man had his hands folded together, and his white hair fell over his forehead, and he was looking at the indifferent Kamble with moist eyes. Sartaj thought it was on the whole a finely considered performance, and that the grief was genuine, but the bit about Gandhi-ji and broken collarbones quite excessively and melodramatically reproving.
Both the elderly man and Kamble knew well that a payment would have to be made before the certificate was signed. Kamble would probably hold out for eight hundred rupees; the old man wanted to give only five hundred or so, but the sacrifices of the elders had been done to death in the movies, and Kamble was quite indifferent to the degeneration-of-India gambit.
He now closed his red register and reached for a green one. He studied it closely. The old man began the whole story again, from the fall down the stairs. Sartaj got up, stretched, and walked out into the courtyard of the station. In the shade of the gallery that ran along the front of the building, and under the tin portico, there was the usual crowd of touts, hangers-on, relatives of those chained in the detection room inside, messengers and representatives from local businessmen, favour-seekers, and, here and there, those marked by misfortune and sudden misery, now looking up at him in mingled hope and bitterness.
Sartaj walked past them all. There was an eight-foot wall around the whole complex, of the same reddish-brown brick as the station house and the zonal headquarters. Both buildings were two storeys high, with identical red-tiled roofs and oval-topped windows. A sentry snapped to attention as Sartaj went up the stairs.
He was good copy. Parulkar walked around the desk, tugging at his belt. Parulkar shut the door, and led Sartaj around the back of the cabin, to a very small kitchen which now boasted a gleaming new Brittex water filter on its wall.
Parulkar pressed buttons and a bright stream of water fell into the glass he held below. Parulkar was drinking deep draughts from a steel tumbler.
Parulkar had sloping shoulders and a pear-shaped body that defeated the best tailors, and his uniform was crumpled already, but that was only usual. There was a sag in his voice, a resignation in his sideways glance that Sartaj had never known. Is there some complication with the initiative, sir? No, nothing to do with that at all. It is something else. They want me out.
Parulkar was now a deputy commissioner of police, and he had once been a lowly sub-inspector. He had risen through the Maharashtra State Police, and he had made that near-impossible leap into the august Indian Police Service, and he had done it alone, with good police work, a sense of humour, and very long hours. He emptied his glass, and poured more water from his new Brittex filter. You have lots of years left before retirement.
He had built, in record time, the extension of the compound wall at the rear of the station, around the recently filled lowland. There was now a Hanuman temple and a small lawn and young trees that you could see from the offices to the rear of the building. He said it often: we must improve. Mathija and Sons had improved the station, and of course they had done it for free. Parulkar was taking little sips of water, swirling it about in his mouth. Mathija has threatened to file a case.
He said he was forced to do some work for me. He came himself. How many times he visited you here. We all saw that. He was happy to do it. My ancestral abode really. Also, it needed a new bathroom. Mamta and my granddaughters have moved back home. As you know. Finish the work before the last monsoons. I may have used some strong language. Let him go to court. Let him do what he wants. Let him see what we do to his life here, sir. It was incredible that he was so tired. His collar sagged, and the swell of his belly was no longer jaunty, only weighted by regret.
He drank another glass of water, fast. Parulkar nodded. Sartaj was certain he understood. Outside the cabin, Sartaj checked the tuck of his shirt, ran a hand over his turban.
Then he stepped in, and told the reporters about more policemen on more streets, about community interaction, about strict supervision and transparency, about how things were going to get better. For lunch Sartaj had an uttapam sent to the station from the next-door Udipi Restaurant. The keen kick of the chillies was invigorating, but when he was finished, Sartaj was unable to get up from his chair.
It had been a very light meal but he was crushed, pulped by lassitude. He was barely able to get up and pull the bench from the wall, to slip off his shoes and lie flat and very straight on the wood. His arms were crossed on his chest. A deep breath, then another, and the edge cutting into the back of his thigh receded, and in the swimming drowsiness he was able to forget details, and the world became a receding white blur.
Yet a sharp undertow flung him into anger, and after a moment he was able to remember what he was restless about. And once Parulkar was gone, what of Sartaj? What would become of him? Sartaj had begun recently to feel that he himself had accomplished nothing in his life.
He was past forty, a divorced police inspector with middling professional prospects. Others from his batch had climbed past him, he was just pedalling along, doing his job. He looked into his future and saw that he would not achieve as much as his own father, and much less than the redoubtable Parulkar. I am quite useless, Sartaj thought, and felt very bleak. He sat up, rubbed his face, shook his head violently, and pulled on his shoes.
He stalked into the front room, where PSI Kamble was rubbing his stomach lightly in circles. He looked quite satisfied. You know those two gaandus who were encountered yesterday by the Flying Squad in Bhayander? You know the Gaitonde gang and the Suleiman Isa gang have been stepping up their war again, right? So, I heard the two hits yesterday were a supari given by the S-Company. I heard that the Flying Squad boys made twenty lakhs. I hear the going rate to get in is twenty-five lakhs.
His face was aglow, every pore open and alight. Sartaj nodded, and Kamble sank into a register again. Sartaj had once heard it from a slumlord convicted of murder, the bitter secret of life in the metropolis: paisa phek, tamasha dekh.
They had literally bumped into each other, walking round a corner in a basti in Andheri. Which was absolutely true: if you had money to throw, you could watch the spectacle — the judges and magistrates trapezing blithely, the hoop-jumping politicians, the happy, red-nosed cops. Bahzad Hussain had the grace and good sense to come quietly to the station, and he was very confident, and wanted only a cup of tea and a chance to make a few phone calls.
He made jokes and laughed a lot. Yes, he had thrown his money and watched the spectacle. All of this police jhanjhat was only a slight waste of time, nothing more. Paisa phek, tamasha dekh. Kamble now had a family standing in front of him, a mother and a father and a son in blue-uniform short pants. The father was a tailor who had come back home from the shop early in the afternoon, to get some suiting material he had forgotten.
On the way he had taken a short-cut and seen his son, who was supposed to be in school, playing marbles against the factory wall with some faltu street kids. The mother was doing the talking now. The teachers have given up. He shouts back at us, my son. You take him. You put him in jail. Looking at her hands and finely muscled forearms, Sartaj was certain that she worked as a bai, that she washed dishes and clothes for the wives of executives in the Shiva Housing Colony.
The son had his head down, and was scraping the side of one shoe against the other. Sartaj smashed a hand down on to the table. It was very loud, and Sailesh started and backed away. Sartaj grabbed him by the collar and twisted him around the end of the desk. Let me show you what we do with tough taporis like you, Sailesh.
Katekar was sitting with another constable at the end of the room, near the squatting line of chained prisoners. Sartaj shook Sailesh so that his head wobbled and snapped. Let him see. Give Narain Swami some dum and let the big man see. Katekar lifted the cringing Narain Swami and bent him over, and Swami struggled and jingled his chains, but when the first open-palmed blow landed on his back with an awful popping noise he got the idea.
With the second one he howled quite creditably. After the third and fourth he was sobbing. No more. He turned his face away and Sartaj forced his chin around. You know what we do next? We string him up on the bar, hands and feet, and give it to him with the patta. Show him the patta, Katekar. Sartaj turned him around, both hands on his shoulders, and walked him towards the door. Narain Swami was still bent over, and flashing an upside-down grin.
Outside, sitting on a metal chair with a Coke bottle clutched between his knees, Sailesh listened quietly to Sartaj. He sipped his Coke and Sartaj told him how people like Narain Swami ended up, beaten up, used up, addicted, in jail and out of it, wasted and tired and finally dead. All of it from not going to school and disobeying his mother.
Sailesh nodded, and Sartaj led him out. At the station gate, the mother hung back. She came close to Sartaj and held up her fisted hands and opened them. In the right there was the twisted end of her pallu, and in the left a neatly folded hundred rupee note.
She had oiled hair and reddened eyes. She smiled, barely, and held up her hands higher, and opened them further. Katekar drove with an easy grace that found the gaps in the traffic with balletic timing.
Sartaj pushed his seat back and drowsily watched him change gears and snake the Gypsy between trucks and autos with less than inches to spare. Sartaj had long ago learned to relax. He still anticipated a crash every few minutes, but he had learned from Katekar not to care.
It was all confidence. You went forward, and someone always backed off at the last moment, and it was always the other gaandu. They took a left, and Sartaj grinned at the wide swagger of the turn.
Katekar was embarrassed. In his limp perfection there was an odd comfort, a nostalgia for a simplicity that Sartaj had never known. But he had expected Katekar to be an Amitabh Bachchan extremist, or an enthusiast of the muscle boys, Sunil Shetty or Akshay Kumar, who stood huge on the posters like some new gigantic and bulging species.
Katekar smiled, and tipped his head to the side. It was a perfect Dev Anand waggle. Of course. Sartaj nodded. Sartaj had always found the long-drawn-out death of the guide almost unbearable to watch, all his loneliness and his withered love.
But here was Katekar with his unexpected Dev-sympathies. Now they were grinning at each other. They had a clear stretch of road now, all the way up to the intersection at Karanth Chowk. They sped past clusters of apartment buildings to the right, ensconced behind a long grey wall, and on the left the untidy shacks of a basti opened doors directly on to the road. Katekar stopped at the light smoothly, coming from headlong velocity to an even halt. This was a good rumour, Sartaj thought, as rumours went.
Katekar nodded. He had offered no reasons, and Sartaj had put his suspicions down to enduring anti-Brahminism. Look at history, he had said more than once. And Sartaj had always accepted, without question, that the backward castes had been treated horribly for interminable centuries.
But he argued the caste politics of the past and present with Katekar, and challenged his conclusions. They had always left those dangerous topics amiably enough. They had known each other for a long time, and Sartaj had come to depend on him. Sartaj reached back behind his seat for a white Air India bag. He squeezed out past a Peugeot, past a paan-wallah at the gate, and then waited for a line of white-shirted executives to pass.
Katekar sat across from Sartaj in a four-customer booth, and they both lowered their heads gratefully under the heavy wash of cold air from a vent just above. A waiter brought two Pepsis, and they both gulped fast, but before they were half-way through, Shambhu Shetty was with them. He slid smoothly in next to Sartaj, neat and trim as always in blue jeans and a blue denim shirt.
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra ebook. Subjects Fiction Literature. Fiction Literature. More about Vikram Chandra. Read aloud. Flag as inappropriate. It syncs automatically with your account and allows you to read online or offline wherever you are.