Why are gays called chhakkas?”
“For the same reason that applies to cricket,” I venture. “Any ball that is lofted outside the boundary is called a sixer!” Oftener than not, men use it as a pejorative when they want to demean other men.
To hold Jerry Pinto’s Murder in Mahim feels good. A brooding cover sets the pace for a riveting tale of life outside the pale of heterosexual relationships.
In staccato prose, the tale unfolds with the murder of a young man in the latrines of Matunga Road on the Western Railway line—a famous gay haunt in Mumbai—‘darkness has stayed a while. And for a while it shelters the men who come there, groping each other in the dark, hoping to find some release, perhaps love, or just the warmth of another body’.
Welcome to the metropolis that the novelist knows like the back of his hand. It’s a place where Peter D’Souza follows his old friend, Inspector Jendeto, to find the underbelly of love, desire and blackmail; where men seek out other men. Peter gets some help from outrageous Leslie Siqueria, ‘the Queen of the Queen of Suburbs’.
But there is little time left in a place gone awry. And it’s a treat to be taken by the hand through the labyrinth of a gripping murder mystery while exploring relationships in families and amongst friends. ‘It seemed as if everyone was in constant motion, a Bombay phenomenon. It reminded him of what an old Goan aunt who had come to see him had said about the city, “Everyone looks as if they’re going to collide and then they veer away at the last minute.”
Then there’s Mahim, the most wonderful neighbourhood, offering the possibility of prayer at Sheetala Devi, one of the oldest of the cities goddesses, a gurdwara down the road from where the Citylight Cinema had once stood, a dargah and two churches.
And with expressions such as “Old Girl”, “Old Fruit” and the usual “Chalo Man”, the warmth of Anglo India is always close at hand, almost familial and occasionally bubbling to the surface. A flawless rendition with great sweep Perhaps Pinto could have spared the reader the gory details in passages that seem to have jumped out straight off the musty pages of a forgotten post-mortem ledger:
‘They passed what looked like a room built into a bridge, a cave-like room with no windows and which had not been used for decades, it seemed, from the dirt and debris inside. Then came the toilet and inside it, a young man lay on his back … A slash had opened his shirt (a dark colour), his banian (once white but now almost black with clotted blood), his skin (brown), the fatty layer underneath (a bright shade of yellow), his innards (purple and red, what might once have been described as incarnadine). The body had been outlined in chalk. A photographer was walking away, his face pasty.’
A good read, best done, preferably in one sitting.