63 pages • 2 hours readDeepti Kapoor
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“Five pavement-dwellers lie dead at the side of Delhi’s Inner Ring Road.
It sounds like the start of a sick joke.
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If it is, no one told them.”
The opening lines immediately establish the novel’s use of black humor to depict the irreconcilable reality of its world. The death of the pavement-dwellers is a grotesque tragedy, but because of the pavement-dwellers’ marginalized socioeconomic status, it is treated like a banal punchline.
“What they know is this: he’s not a rich man, not a rich man at all, rather a facsimile, a man dressed in the imitation of wealth […] the clothes, the well-groomed features, the car that cannot hide the essential poverty of his birth; its smell is stronger than any liquor or cologne.”
Social stratification is an essential component of the novel’s universe. People, like the policemen in the above quote, can immediately discern wealth and poverty despite appearances to the contrary. Ajay is well-dressed and found behind the wheel of an expensive car, but the cops know he is a staff member of a wealthy person and not the owner of the car. Perhaps they also subconsciously sense that a truly wealthy person would never allow themselves to be found in such a compromised position. Their privilege would protect them from being incriminated at all costs.
“This story becomes fact.”
The alacrity with which the cops conclude that Ajay killed the pavement-dwellers shows their eagerness to pin the crime on him and the power of false and convenient narratives. Repeated often enough, such narratives take on the sound of truth.