Arvind Adiga, Last Man in Tower, HarperCollins India, Pp. 658. Rs 432.
Dr Shamenaz, Associate Professor, Deptt of Applied Sciences & Humanities, AIET, Allahabad.
Arvind Adiga is a well- known figure in the scene of Indian English fiction. He created sensation with the release of his debut novel, The White Tiger, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2008. His latest novel, Last Man in Tower is published by HarperCollins India.
In this novel, Adiga put the spotlight on Mumbai, the dream city, the biggest and probably one of the most challenging cities on the earth. The novel is based on Dickensian style as it focuses on the city life of Mumbai, and the conflict between the have and have-lesses. Adiga says- “The great Mumbai story is neither mafia nor Bollywood____ it is real estate.”
Adiga shares his experiences about Mumbai in the novel. In an interview, he tells: “From the day you…. arrive in Mumbai, you realize that real estate obsession here than anywhere else on the earth. Where you live, and how many square feet of living space you have, define you in a way than in any other city. People think of Mumbai as city of cinema, but the real dream merchants here are the developers, who convince people to pay crores of rupees for a tiny flat in a skyscraper.”
So this is the theme, which forms the base of the novel. The novel, Last Man in Tower, is mostly set in middle-class building in Vakola Santa Cruz (East). So in this novel Adiga has shifted his focus on the middle class. There are two main characters in the novel, Yogesh Murthy, nicknamed as Masterji and Dharmen Shah. Masterji is an obdurate retired teacher and widower but Shah is a developer. Masterji is an atheist, a free thinker and he is modern in his own way, while Shah is superstitious and traditional in some ways.
Adiga has shown the clash between these characters in the novel, which is inevitable. But he has not shown Shah as a villain or Masterji as the hero. Neither has he shown one to be a representative of old India and other to be a representative of new India. Both of them are “new men”. Although Masterji and Dharmen are the main characters of the novel but Mumbai is the real protagonist. It is so because the story is basically about the city.
The story deals with the serious business of property development in Mumbai. In Mumbai, lands are more expensive and valuable than human lives. In the novel, the Vishram Society which is inhabited by middle-class people is a housing co-operative based in a block to the east of the city. And as the demands of the land are increasing day-by-day in the city, so the area has become intensely desirable. Hence Dharmen Shah wants to tear the Vishram down and in place of it he wants to build luxury apartments, which is very profitable for him.
He tries to convince the people of the Society by generous offers. But he is supported by some people and there are other residents who are not willing to be brought out by his efforts. And it is Masterji, who is mainly the centre of all opposition. So this is the reason of clash between Masterji and Dharmen Shah. There is such a rise of professionalism and materialism in Mumbai that if Shah had not done so another developer would might have been step in to tempt the people of Vishram for his benefit. Even so, he is something of a Satan, as he says, “You have to respect human greed.” For him money is everything and for others also he thinks the same.
Shah tries to work on his plans on the other hands Masterji tries to block his development. But his chances to block the development are not good, it cannot be certain that Shah will prevail. But it is also not certain that whether Shah will be successful in his desire. But the thing is that Vishram Society is in a precarious state. Being neglected and affected by the monsoons, it can collapse at any moment and leaving the people homeless. So it is difficult for the residents of Vishram society to decide whether to sell the place to Shah or not.
The main characters in the novel are floundering. Shah’s story shows that he does not hold moral authority. He came to Mumbai with Rs 10 in his hand but rose very quickly as a rich developer. On the other hand, Masterji is a man of values and a decent man. He is rather emotional than being professional. He values his memories of his wife above monetary gain so he does not want to sell his house to Shah.
Besides these two central characters, the story revolves around other 20 main characters, mainly Vishram’s residents and their servants, including social worker Georgina Rego, internet café proprietor Ibrahim Khudwa, Vishram’s slum-dwelling cleaner Mary and co-op’s administrative secretary Ashwin Kuthani.
Adiga has portrayed multitudes of people belonging to different castes, creeds and economic status. Life goes on in the city like Mumbai amidst all chaos and tension. As it has been shown from the extract taken from the book below.
“The morning after the storm, Masterji paced about his living room.
The compound was full of storm water and slush. He had just
washed his brown trousers in the semi-autonomic washing
machine, and they would be flecked with red and black if he
took even a few steps outside.
He knocked on Mrs Puri’s door, hoping for a cup of tea and some
‘You’ve become a stranger to us, Masterji,’ Mrs Puri said, when
she opened the door. ‘But we have to go to Siddhi Vinayak temple
soon. Ramu and I. Let us talk tomorrow.
It was true that his neighbours had not seen much of Masterji lately.”
Throughout the novel he has highlighted the ever widening gap between the have and have-lesser. As The White Tiger reveals that Adiga has displayed the great enterprise in capturing and picturing the naked reality of our times so as Last Man in Tower.
His writings reflect that he is much worried by corruption, degeneration of human values, drawbacks of human systems of our times so he focuses on it. He is the imitator and painter of reality like a kaleidoscope. He even sometimes seems to be satirical in language.
But there is a tendency in his writings that he does not throw limelight on female characters, rather he shows them as minor or supportive characters. In Last Man in Tower, there is Rosy, the Vishram’s slum dwelling cleaner, who is a minor character in the novel.
If Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger, had the quality of dynamism and Between the Assassinations finesse, his Last Man in Tower retains some of these qualities in it. It is the story of the rise of the growing Indian middle class. The novels of Adiga show growing consumerism and commercialization in Indian society in the wake of globalization.