Legends of the Hidden Temple

I’ve had this one as a (misspelled) placeholder post for awhile, and in the coming weeks, I hope to go through all the ones like this that I have (and there are quite a few) and update them, so don’t be surprised if you experience some deja vu.

A few weeks ago, I finished a book I randomly selected from a shelf in the library, The Temple Goers, which is the first novel by Indian writer Aatish Taseer.

The back cover blurb is one hundred percent misleading; the event mentioned there doesn’t occur until about the last quarter of the book, and it’s not really the focus of the story. The story centers on the very unlikely friendship between returning Indian expat Aatish Taseer (no relation to the author of the book), and Aakash, a personal trainer who has some…shall we say, interesting hobbies. Aakash takes Aatish under his wing and reintroduces him to Delhi, but to a different Delhi than where the latter grew up. They go from high society parties to sordid sex dens to the eponymous temple, a portion of the book which the author describes in extreme, painstaking detail a ceremony which lasts all night. Other plot complications include Aatish’s relationship with his girlfriend Sanyogita – who’s obviously got a thing for her boyfriend’s new bro – and Sanyogita’s aunt Chamunda, a politician who allows Aatish to live in her apartment while he is in Delhi.

Overall, I would describe it as fair, maybe better than average. Some of the description is long-winded, but other parts are so delicious that I just had to put the book down and sort of fantasize. It’s less the story of Aatish than it is of the city in which he grew up, which looks completely different to him as an adult. As far as genre, it incorporates a but of magical realism, but I’d probably call it gritty neon realism, because the reader kind of feels like they spent the whole book shuffling from one crazy scenario to another, like barhopping in Cancun. The message of neocolonialism – which I didn’t even pick up on until reading some reviews, is really present; as much as the characters want to break down barriers, they are constantly putting each other in categories and on levels. In a society that is post caste-system, The Temple Goers shows that Delhi society just can’t seem to break free of classism, even if it’s not determined by outsiders.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed Taseer’s writing and I’ve already picked his next book up from the library.

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