This big, juicy novel exuberantly thrusts the reader into modern India like no other I've read. Although the story moves as fast as any successful thriller, and the plot careens energetically in many directions, it's all headed to one deeper place: to examine if the way we act in the world reflects who we are inside, or is an assumed, learned response to the circumstances we experience. With that difficult task in hand, Chandra, a master raconteur, tells the intertwining stories of two men, who should not, on the face of it, have much in common.
Ganesh Gaitonde is a small-time crook who becomes the biggest Hindu mob boss in India. A street kid with no resources but his own wits, he evolves into a violent, immoral, spoiled man/boy who is protected and catered to by his band of dependent henchmen. He is as fascinating for his acts of unthinking bloodshed and revenge as he is for his sentimental generosity; for his naive delusion that he can produce the perfect Bollywood action movie, as he is by his blind devotion to a renowned holy man.
His story is laid side-by-side that of Sartaj Singh, a Sikh police officer in Mumbai. Singh is carrying the heavy mantle of a respected father who has preceded him on the force, a feeling of ennui about much of his daily grind, and a failed marriage. When Singh becomes the unwitting ear to Gaitonde's last words, and oversees the discovery of Gaitonde's body following his bizarre suicide, Singh is dragged into Gaitonde's sphere whether he wants to be there or not. We are captivated as Gaitonde posthumously recounts his autobiography and Singh tries to determine if Gaitonde's influence over India had grown from grossly criminal to internationally threatening.
This is a novel full of surprises, humor, bravura set pieces, and a plethora of Hindi profanity. We are treated to the sights, sounds and smells of Bombay, which is truly its own lush character in the book. But more than that, Sacred Games is a delicious head-first dive into words, deftly used not only to tell a good story, but to plumb the contradictory depths of human nature.