In Mint Lounge, an extract from Manil Suri’s new novel ‘The City of Devi’(Bloomsbury India). The is set in a Mumbai on the brink of its end:
“Bhaiyya, listen,” I try once more. “They’re dropping the atom bomb this week. Atom bomb, you understand, not some firecracker that’s demolished the market around you. On Bombay. Mumbai. Whatever you call it, the city’s going to be finished. What would you do even if you did manage to squeeze out the extra money from someone? Take it to heaven with you? And what if nobody else came to your store?—most of the city has fled, you know. Is this what you want to happen to your fruit?” I nudge the tangerine with my foot, and it crumbles into ash.
But the fruitwalla is adamant, he won’t sell for less. “It’s all up to Devi ma’s grace,” he says. “She’s the city’s patron goddess, after all. Now that she’s appeared in our midst, perhaps she’ll save us, who knows? But even if she doesn’t, even if she only lets me hold the money for ten minutes, at least I’ll have it for that much time. At least I’ll die with an offering for her in my hand.”
Suddenly, the futility of what I am trying to do overwhelms me—how ridiculous to put such hopes in a pomegranate! I look at the smoke billowing out of the buildings in the distance and smell the soot that hangs everywhere. The garbage collecting for days, the stench of bodies rotting in the air. Ever since I started my vigil for Karun eighteen days ago, I’ve kept close to my building complex, sheltered from the mayhem. Trying not to obsess over where he might be now, why he left. With the internet dying out, together with phones, radio and television, even electricity, my only news about the outside has been through tidbits from our lone remaining watchman. More: