Killing Time in Delhi
By: Ravi Shankar Etteth
Novelist Ravi Shankar Etteth shifts genre lanes—from spy thriller to literary whodunit—with his latest book Killing Time in Delhi, which is a gasp-a-minute in the fast lane. One murder, two bodies, a sly cop, a newly bought luxury car, drug pushers, incestuous undertones and well-crafted lines.
Once upon a time in Delhi lived a poor little rich boy, spoilt and sex-mad. Charlie Seth is at first a good-time Charlie, intent on his bad-boy persona—the brat from hell—but soon life as he knows it slides into the past tense. A new topsy-turvy future vrooms up and all is speed and motion: ‘My life, lived in lazy luxury, full of simple pleasures like food, booze and sex, was suddenly packed with murder, socially jilted policemen, an eccentric guru and an inscrutable woman.’
He would be just another one of your average priapic playboys if it wasn’t for his self-aware insolence stemming from inherited wealth and ardent bimbos and an obviously first-class education that gives him a vocabulary now cynical, now lyrical, but always articulate. The language is a surprise, popping as it does with the wryest of observations, deadly malice and a devilish humour. ‘Death plays hell with grammar,’ we are warned in a cool unruffled way.
Charlie, the Don Corleone of Connaught Place, lives in a mansion complete with its own abandoned ancient Mughal tomb, a must-own antique for the city’s elite. ‘Lutyens’ Delhi is not a place. It is an idea with pin codes,’ after all. Charlie is mildly surprised that he is suspect number one in a murder case or two. But if he thought being booked for homicide will end his partying days, he is so, so wrong. He gets more breathless invitations now than ever before.
It is a Delhi where artists are a Ted Talk with emoticons, characters keep popping up like a retweet and a prisoner carries himself like a ‘proud misunderstanding’ in Tihar jail.The clay feet of Delhi’s high society are on display throughout the book: ‘They would spend half a million on a birthday party but would ask a blood bank for a discount if their kid had leukaemia.’ Ouch.So there he is, little boy blue, feeling ‘the world whirl around me like a Sufi on pot,’ because out of the wilderness tumble out women dead and alive. Female characters who are all devoted to Charlie, theirs’ only to do him or die.
Mandy, whom people stare at like a masterpiece at the Louvre. Who accompanies him with casual ease to his ancestral property, Silver Cloud. Who cuddles him to sleep and lets him ‘smell the faded day in her hair’.A late wife whom he remembers in mellow moments of True Love. Who had once said to him, ‘When things go wrong, love can make you lonely.’
Then there is the woman we meet in the first line of the first chapter, Rita, who overdoses herself to death before she can say Lamborghini—or rather as soon she says it. Who is then lugged hither and thither in her late state till Charlie decides ‘Miss Elvis had to leave the building’.‘Ah,’ we say, and ‘oh’ as the denouement ties up loose ends and everything falls into place—but not before a spiritual evolution seems likely for Charlie, who won’t be the same after his brush with... family. No longer the wide-eyed orphan who cried himself to sleep, or the sheep who followed his debauched uncle around blindly, Charlie finally seems to acquire a soul.
The story gives him enough scope—and rope—to come into his own.
A smart-sweet read irradiated with wise-isms and an underlying sense of rightness despite its amoral moorings. Etteth infuses philosophic musings with an insider’s knowledge of the city. The plot and the protagonist never lose their poise.