Age of Vice is a book that doesn’t cut corners. It doesn’t hold back from saying what it wants to about the vast difference between the haves and the have-nots in the Indian society, and what happens because of that. At the same time, it is heartfelt in the way the story unfolds sometimes. Mind you, those times are very rare in the book, so when you find them, you are overwhelmed, broken, and realise your failings as a person, in comparison to that of the well-nuanced, messy, struggling-with-life, and fractured characters that inhabit these five-hundred-and-forty pages.
Age of Vice is set in Delhi – the book opens with a crime – and Kapoor doesn’t shy from showing us how it was done – getting into the gory details, and the intended result of that crime that takes place in 2004, but the story begins in 1991 with Ajay – a boy of eight – a boy from a lower caste – a Dalit, and what happens to him till and after he starts working for Sunny Wadia, the heir to the Wadia empire and its nefarious dealings. Basically, a crime syndicate, and how inextricably the stories of Ajay and Sunny will be linked for years to come. And in all of this, there is Neda, the headstrong journalist, whose gumption is tested to the point of it not being there, whose moral compass is uprooted, and how she becomes a part of the world inhabited by Sunny.
There is opulence, decadence, wealth that one cannot imagine – brands being dropped constantly on every other page, and while initially I thought what was happening, I realised very soon that it was much-needed. To show the farmhouse culture of Delhi, to understand the poor, we must understand the wealthy. Kapoor has this insider-outsider perspective – there is biting satire that unravels itself slowly and quite deliciously. As a reader, you must wait, you must go through the finer details of living – and losing, and the sheer heartbreak of the story – of Sunny and Neda’s love, of how as humans we will go to any stretch sometimes to ensure we have the one elusive characteristic that places us on the top of it all – POWER.
Power to claim people, to make them see where they belong in the larger scheme of things, to rule them all (Bunty Wadia and his brother, Vicky Wadia’s constant pursuit), to understand who must be manipulated and controlled to what extent, the plot of Age of Vice races on full-throttle mode. Incidents happen swiftly – people die at the drop of a hat, injustices take place and no one dare utter a word because of the “crime family” at the helm, and Kapoor’s Delhi seethes, and spectates, and we move from place to place with guilt, the idea of freedom in the minds of the characters, never letting go of privilege, of understanding its worth, of being punched in the face with self-awareness, and to then bear the burden of living.
Deepti Kapoor takes us through Goa, the hills of Himachal, Nepal, back to Delhi, to Italy even, to the center of it all – Uttar Pradesh, and all the places to make us understand the futility of living – there is no higher purpose anyway. There are truths and lies, and in-between the ones – the living who tell them daily, to live after all.
Age of Vice is about decaying – the rotting that takes place spectacularly, on such a grand level that the ones involved, the ones watching from the sidelines, and the ones encouraging it also perhaps – know it all – they are aware of what is going on and yet cannot take their gaze away, they cannot walk away – they must endure. Deepti’s writing is sharp, incisive, and makes no bones about how it is. “It is what it is” – this phrase came to my mind so many times as I turned the pages, and it sticks – the indifference of the phrase lingers throughout the book, and in this indifference stems the need to seek validation, to make something of your life, to make it worth it, to make it count – whether for Ajay it is the idea of family, or for Sunny it is about validation – the strong sense of urgency to do good or the idea of it, and ultimately for Neda – to try so hard to be right and yet constantly failing to her own lofty ideas about living.
The back and forth between the sacred, the profane, the good, the bad, the moralistic, the amoral makes Age of Vice what it is – a reflection of our times, of the Kalyug that Deepti mentions at the beginning of the book, the dark times, of the doomsday cometh, of pain and pleasure – both unbearable – the complexity of living, and the simple ways of death – Kapoor’s writing astounded me, made me want to get up and slap a few characters, to show them the way, to play God even, only to quickly realize that as a reader I had been given no power at all – so I enjoyed the read, lapped it all up, thought about the book for days to come, and cannot wait for the next two instalments of this fantastic trilogy.