A wonderful slice-of-life set of stories set in the Mumbai of 2017, each narrated from a different lens and tied in together. Relatable characters, relatable problems, relatable rationalization to decisions. With the metropolis as a central character in the backdrop of every one of them.
You will probably enjoy it more if you've stayed in Mumbai or you're in Architecture, but you'll enjoy it anyways. Finished it in almost one-sitting.
PS - Knowing the language it's translated from busies you in a slightly guilty exercise of trying to second guess what the original Marathi text/statement was. Nonetheless, a seamless translation - the kind where you wouldn't know it's a translation if you hadn't been told about it.
PPS - a small critique would be that in hindsight some of the stories just seemed to be thrown in there, without really tying them in to the larger plot. Also the blurb on the inside cover was unnecessarily judgemental and spoiler-ish (skip that if you can)...
Brilliant insights about typical "upper middle-class professional life" in high rise metropolis. Its all about different perspectives. How different individuals perceive themselves and others. Plus most characters are either architects or are closely associated with them. So you get a peek in architect's mind too.
Each chapter starts randomly but soon it connects with prior chapters and build platform for story ahead. Easy read. Highly recommend.
If you recall my old Read India Challenge I was talking about reading one book, preferably translated, from each state and each language in India. If you didn’t know already there is no language called Indian and we don’t technically have one language. Each state in India has one language or sometimes even more and each language has a rich and diverse selection of literature, each with a distinct style. Maharashtra, the land of Bollywood, actually is the land of Marathi, not Hindi like most would think. And from this gorgeous language I’ve read two translated books, Rau and now Half Open Windows.
Half Open Windows is a story that is based around a group of people directly or indirectly involved in a new and successful architectural firm. There are a lot of people involved and it jumps from perspective to perspective, taking you through the POV and the experience each one is going through. It is more of a societal study than a character study though and I, for one, was completely surprised by the style in which it was written.
WHAT I LIKED : As I mentioned earlier, it jumps from perspective to perspective. Each one with a character introduced in the previous chapters. It isn’t just the people directly involved in the firm, the partners. It also involves a significant other, a child, an intern, an assistant and even an old friend or enemy. I like how the author took up this different style and made it his own. Making each chapter flow from one another almost seeming like a short story within a large story. I also liked that the women here were strong and not weak and gullible like some of the other female characters I have read in regional Indian literature.
The author also takes you to places you won’t expect and tackles topics you won’t be thinking about when reading this. Sometimes regional fiction does handle things a bit more interestingly than English lit and for that I’d definitely recommend reading the former more.
WHAT I DISLIKED : While the chapter thing was great it did not help following the story easily. I thought a lot of details were lost because of this style of storytelling and except for a few the voices didn’t really stand out from each other. The only voice that truly stood out was that of an older woman. The others could be interchanged and if took away from my reading experience to the point that I stopped caring about the characters. But then this is just me and you might enjoy the light surface view the author gives the reader.
Overall, I thought it was a light and interesting read. A new POV style that I enjoyed reading in at times and a few times that left me wanting. I’d say read this if you want a translation by a reputable author.
There are very few contemporary novels out there that speak of the nature of the urban spaces we inhabit and how close is the relationship that we have with them. In my opinion, we need more books such as these that make us contemplate and look at our spaces differently. “Half-Open Windows” by Ganesh Matkari is one such book that reexamines the society we live in, through the characters that are constantly making an appearance and questioning our lives. The book was originally published in Marathi and now translated to English by Jerry Pinto. This edition is published by Speaking Tiger.
What is the book about?
Half-Open Windows is not an easy book to peg. Sometimes it is angsty and at others it is just a social commentary. All said and done, it is also about (and most majorly) the city of Mumbai – the treacherous and yet quite a seducer – Mumbai. The story is about people who are connected to SNA Architects – an upcoming firm in the premium area of Colaba. The characters are way too many for me to describe here – but what I can tell you is that from an attention seeking suicidal person to corrupt co-owners of the firm to a lonely widow going about her life, you will see many shades to Mumbai and perhaps even more.
I haven’t read the book in Marathi but Jerry Pinto does a fantastic job of retaining the flavour of the city and the phrases in the local language without which the book would have been incomplete. At the same time let’s not forget the city of Mumbai that is another character in this book for sure – witnessing it all and the force behind all the good and the bad. “Half-Open Windows” is just but a reflection of our selves. Do not miss out on this read.
The strongest aspect of the novel is that it lets the different narrators pour their hearts out. These narrators/characters though are trying to analyze their own selves, but they're also a bit conscious of not opening up completely. And this by default consciousness is the overall crictique of today's times, of our urban reality. Every human is an island in his own space, separated from each other, but surrounded by the same sea.
'Half-Open Windows' is an essential documentation of today's space & time, that'll stay as an important reflection of this time in the constantly evolving space & time.