Thursday, April 7, 2011

Deaf Heaven by Pinki Virani

Title: Deaf Heaven
Author: Pinki Virani
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 283
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 10

After reading such remarkable non-fiction work by Pinki Virani - ‘Aruna’s story’ and ‘Bitter Chocolate’, her first attempt at fiction looked promising. Usually a 280-page novel is not a big deal for me, but completing this book was particularly taxing.

‘Deaf Heaven’ is a typical roman a clef where in a novel describes real life and real life instances, behind the guise of fiction. The book acts like an unorganized and a poor compilation of numerous unrelated characters and myriad issues together.

Saraswati, a librarian with cleft lip, is the narrator of this bizarre story where completely unconnected characters are brought together through her. She is lying dead in a library and till the time her body is discovered, her spirit is free to move around and eavesdrop into the lives of people. I could not find any relevance of Saraswati’s character to the story. All the pages which go on to build this character seem as irrelevant as the rest of the book. There are too many characters, their conversations banal and their stories commonplace. The book is just an anthology of everyday facts, popular newspaper stories which we already know. There is no new wisdom.

I also had a problem with the language. It has too much of colloquialism, under the pretext of keeping the essence alive. This is exactly the reason why I steer clear of dime-a-dozen novels in the market written by just about anybody. It is beyond my comprehension why spoken language, even what I call sms language with short-forms like ‘princi’ for principal and ‘hols’ for holiday, has come to be accepted in mainstream writing and publishing. For me, a book is worth my time only if it makes a difference, to my thought process, to my vocabulary or atleast inspires introspection. Literature is worthwhile when it makes you fall in love with the language and its expression.

I struggled with the book throughout, failing to understand the objective of this book. It just keeps jumping from one issue to another without structure or relevance. So from bollywood’s scoop section to 26th July Mumbai floods, from Bhopal gas tragedy to tribal conversions for political mileage, from ecological disturbances to Mumbai train blasts; it has every particular contemporary issue of today, juxtaposed to make no sense at all. Sometimes, the narration just runs into pages like a never-ending essay, and that too largely is opinion rather than any story-telling.  

My words of caution: please do yourself a favour – avoid it. 

(Image source:


  1. :-( buhu subuk subuk

    I have already bought tried & left the book!

    1. Quite by accident I found Pinki Virani's 'Deaf Heaven'. I was, actually, looking (for my book club) to seek whether we had any Indian Authors who could convincingly do a Junot Diaz. Admittedly, it makes for a very different kind of reading experience when one picks up a book from the likes of a Diaz -- another language alongside English (in Diaz's case he does a lot of 'Spangliesh') , detailed notes which suddenly pop up as footnotes and asides (Diaz patterns it on David Foster Wallace's style).

      Pinki Virani's 'Deaf Heaven' presents its own challenges as a reading experience, more so since she uses several Indian languages alongside the English. Doing better than Junot Diaz, however, she does not create a "khichdi" of English and the several Indian languages, instead she transliterates alongside. And she informs the reader that she has done so, right at the beginning of the book. As for the David Foster Wallace and Junot Diaz style of footnotes and asides, these are splendidly presented in 'Deaf Heaven' as post-its.

      I didn't even know Pinki Virani had written a book of fiction. I am aware of the Author's activism and advocacy post both her non-fiction books 'Aruna's Story' and 'Bitter Chocolate', with both of which she has secured far-reaching laws for generations of Indians to come. But I have always been a fan of that other, absolute cult of a book 'Once Was Bombay' -- non-fiction -- which is a sad, savage set of true stories grieving about the death of a once great city. It was published at a time when everyone preferred to pretend that it was still a city maximus, urbs primus. Unsurprisingly, she appears to have adapted that title from Tennyson's Once Was Paradise. With 'Deaf Heaven' -- the use of which appears to be from Shakespeare's sonnet -- she expands the geography, she holds up a mirror to all of India. She laments losses -- this time through fiction, even though she uses the afore-mentioned NF post-its -- and she warns against a tipping over into fascism.

      She does all this through the stories of women who know each other through six degrees of separation. And does she pack a wallop! If 'Deaf Heaven' is perceptive, it is also brutal. No wonder learned critics such as Khushwant Singh have called it "profound and profane, all at once'. I can see how a certain set of people who want easy reading will not like 'Deaf Heaven'. Those who want their fiction to not deal with reality or if so, deal with it very gently. Or those who want their fiction to lull them. Or very, very slowly get them to think, if at all.
      But then such book-buyers are not likely to be Junot Diaz or David Foster Wallace readers either.

      As innovative writing in fiction goes, I would any day recommend 'Deaf Heaven'. As fiction on today's Indian society I would, again recommend 'Deaf Heaven'. But read it at your own pace, and your own peril. You might find different meanings at different levels on the scaffolding of the basic plot -- that of the dead sutradhar, Saraswati. My take-away is that it's a very disturbing work (which will undoubtedly follow 'Once Was Bombay' in publishing history) on what we as Indians are allowing to be done to ourselves by our politicians.

  2. And look at me, this had to be the first book that I picked up for the reading challenge. I was stuck with it for 6 whole days! It was just pointless and aimless. How's your reading challenge going on? :-)

  3. hmmm and here i was all ready to pick it up..glad i did not then...

  4. hmmm and here i was thinking of picking up the not going to now thanks reema

  5. @ Vivek - Thanks for dropping by, and what an amazing blog you have! Well, I had read poor reviews of this one, but I liked the other 2 books from the author so much that I went ahead anyways. It was such a waste of time!

  6. i have just finished reading it. The book is a reflection of life in India, no less no more,it does what a book should ideally do. she makes us think about what ails us. May be this story has another perspective the male but it is a large part of reality that is modern india. The change in mindset from the regressed to the progressive is way too slow and needs to be nudged along in every way possible.

  7. @gayatri - May be you are right. But I wrote what I felt reading the book. Several times, I felt disoriented about the flow.