Storywriter and investment banker Sharma’s first novel is in equal parts squalid and compelling: the tale of a corrupt civil servant in Delhi who ruins lives, his own included, by having seduced his own daughter.
Ram Karan, 48 and obese, is “moneyman” for Mr. Roshan Gupta, education head. Karan’s job, which he’s very good at, is to keep the budget in operation by extorting money and collecting bribes for Mr. Gupta, which he does on a steeply increased scale when Mr. Gupta is put up as a political candidate and needs breathtakingly large amounts of money to campaign. As Karan gets drawn more deeply into the frightening criminality of political financing, he also relates the story of his life—love for his mother, his grief when she died in his childhood (and witnessed her cremation), his joyless marriage, the births of four children—and his unspeakable, repeated, compulsive seduction and rape of his second daughter, Anita, when she was 12. And now? Grown, Anita herself has a daughter who’s 12, and, one night after Karan has had too much to drink, she walks in to find him touching the girl with his penis—with the result that the volcanic power of her previously repressed hatred and rage begins to emerge, to the point that her father may not—does not—survive it. The story is almost Aeschylean in the tumult of its misery—deaths, heart attacks, widowings, suicides, even murder—yet the plain, unstoried quality of life itself is never neglected by Sharma. The daily life of poverty-stricken Delhi is ever made real, and even the ruinously monstrous Karan—narrator of much of the book—consistently makes evident his intelligence, depth, and sensitivity as one who’s light-years away from any sort of cardboard villain.
So full it threatens sometimes to collapse or overflow; but a debut, on balance, that’s pathetic, remorseless, and wrenching.