[The following book review first appeared for the blog, The Book Lovers]
Author: Rajender Menen
Publisher: Harper Collins India
Karma Sutra - Adventures of a Street Bum by Rajendar Menen is a powerful book about the Indian street - a journey into the murky urban underbelly. It tells the varied stories of those who live on - and off - the street, an amazing cast of characters that includes sex workers, bar girls, hijras, Devadasis, drug addicts, runaways, migrants, hustlers, the homeless, the dying and the abandoned.
The book does not pass any moral judgements. It just tells stories as it is and leave the whole process of draw-your-own-conclusions phase to its readers. The author takes us through various places in Mumbai - starting from the red light area of Kamathipura and Ladies Bar which once upon a time were a major employment avenue for the people coming from outside for work in Mumbai. These chronicles extend to Colaba, Kala Ghoda, Juhu, Saundatti and even touches on the migrants from Goa and young, nubile sex workers from Kathmandu.
The realistic tone of the narrative allows you to feel for each of the flesh and blood characters and leaves a indelible impression on your psyche. It helps that author has literally got his hands dirty but living in these dingy places, sharing space with these varied crumbling personnel and hence, in turn aware of those small nuggets which are fascinating to know. Fortunately, all of that real-time experience is translated into the book even though non-profanity form and at times, sugar coated humour softens the blow at various plot points.
The author cleverly stays away from his own personal experiences of living with the prostitutes, and i am glad it happened that way which otherwise would have taken out the gritty touch and in turn, infused the narrative with a voyeuristic tone which gets difficult to fathom for best of the readers. The experience with transsexuals - their religious ceremonies and festive enormities is my most favourite section of the book. Underneath the humour on this community, there is a real insight into the new consumerist, yet traditionally acquisitive India and terrible though subtle strains of sadness and loss palpitating across hierarchy of society.
The book does not offer easy answers, neither put forward questions which you don't know before. But still it makes you think, it makes you introspect your own life and your existence as a human being in a complex city like Mumbai. It is difficult to understand the pains till you have been on street but sometimes it is so easy and deliberate to exploit it to your own advantage. Like the various intermingled worlds the book represents, it is witty, charming and heart breaking tales, all at the same time. I strongly recommend you make time to read it.