Sunday, 14 June 2009



I met Karan Seth when he was 25, looking lost in his world of photography where there was nothing but subjects for his camera lens. But along with Karan’s photographs came the saga of love, loneliness, crime, passion and the city by the sea. Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s recent work The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay combines them all to weave a magical story of characters who suffer upheavals in their lives, yet they try to repose faith in the moments of trust and bonding.

The story revolves round a talented photographer called Karan who joins The India Chronicle of Bombay. It is his character that remains at the centre of the novel — Karan’s meetings with several other characters, his decisions and his mind keep the story moving ahead. Karan Seth, initially appears to be a workaholic man who is running away from his somewhat uneasy past. Camera, and miles and miles of walking through the streets of Bombay seem to be his escape route from the melancholy that keeps coming back in his life. He tries to seek shelter in the physicality of his relationship with Rhea Dalal, the wife of a rich hedge fund manager Adi. But when that doesn’t work out, Karan doesn’t take the setback head on. Like a Devdas, he guzzles whisky and decides to leave Bombay.

Is Karan Seth an escapist? Well, it seems so as he tries to wriggle out of the disappointments due to a betrayed love, his failed endeavour to seek justice for a murdered friend Zaira, a screen diva, and the burden of monotony. He comes out a stronger person while supporting the efforts of Zaira’s another friend, the eccentric pianist Samar Arora, who also pursues Zaira’s killer in the court of law. But the flicker of strength gets over and a battered and bruised Karan returns to his realm of sadness.

For the ladies he meets in Bombay and in England, Karan comes across in varied shades. He is mysterious to Zaira, a symbol of abundant youth to Rhea and for Claire, he is more like an object of desire. And the man seems to be straddling easily between his roles. So which Karan is real? To a reader, he is more like a restless soul who has been wandering in search of his own identity. Karan is sensitive; he is a trusted friend, moved by Zaira’s loneliness and her unrequited love for Samar. But he can act insane at times — whether by trying to hurt Rhea or by making offending probes about Samar’s male partner Leo. And in that, he shows his inability to control his emotions.

And these emotions are almost always driven by the duality of his constant search for loneliness and ways out of it. He lets his past get obscured at times, but he doesn’t let himself move out of the past completely. He never seems to be decisively trying to fill in the void in his life. He isn’t a loser, but he doesn’t seem to be a winner either.
I left Karan Seth in that state.