Dilip Nair, the narrator and protagonist of “Killing the Red God,”
a forty-something Indian immigrant to Singapore, is going through a mid-life
crisis. His marriage with the ambitious Nisha, which had caused his estrangement
from his parents in India, is falling apart. Moreover, his separation from
his young daughter, Pooja, who is in a boarding school in India adds to his
woes. Dilip, who is an amateur poet and agnostic, is also meek by nature and
cannot go against the domineering Nisha, who does not want her daughter’s
presence in Singapore to interfere with her career goals.
In this scenery of things enters the young and beautiful Kavitha. Kavitha the poetess. Kavitha the new-age believer. Kavitha the telepath. Kavitha is a US citizen of Indian origin, whose husband has been posted to Singapore. Kavitha too is in an unhappy marriage — a marriage of convenience. Dilip and Kavitha meet at a party and have a torrid affair. Kavitha believes that Dilip’s daughter is her mind-child, and she is obligated to train her in the art of telepathy once Pooja reaches maturity, like she herself was trained by Crystal, an African-American woman. Kavitha coerces Dilip into making a trip to India after learning that his father is hospitalised with a cerebral stroke. Kavitha accompanies Dilip to India, where he has not been for more than a decade. Dilip is re-united with his daughter and parents. This trip to India holds some surprises and changes Dilip significantly. They return to Singapore to face an explosive truth and a climactic finale.
At times humorous, at times moving, the novel seamlessly flits between Dilip's early life in India and the present. It is often narrated in a stream of consciousness style, especially the portions which describe his inner conflicts, his overwhelming sense of guilt, his feelings of love.
At 110,000 words, "Killing the Red God" is essentially the story of a man's inner struggles.
I am on my third whiskey (or my fourth, I am not sure), when I see her. She is at one of the poolside umbrellas; alone, aloof. I can hear the party warming up in the nearby function hall of this magnificent condominium. Bursts of laughter occasionally drown the soft swish of the pool waters. The dull light from the full moon lies shattered in the pool, making quivering shapes on her face. As I approach her, I note the striking ovalness of her face, an almost perfect symmetry. Her hair is thick, long lustrous swirls that one can drown in. I place my whiskey on her table and sink into a chair beside her. She ignores me, still gazing at the unusually starry Singapore night. I follow her gaze. The words of Francis William Bourdillon rise in me unexpectedly:
“The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying sun…”
She looks at me, the broken moon sparkling in her eyes, and whispers softly where I left off:
“The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one:
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.”
She smiles. “Kavitha,” she says, extending a delicate hand. “Dilip,” I say, taking it. “Dilip… Dil for short,” she says, “Dil meaning heart.” “Kavitha…” I say in return, relishing the feel of the word forming in my tongue, “meaning poetry”
“Are you both happy together” — the words buzz in my brain
like a swarm of stubborn mosquitoes. I close my eyes and try to picture a
pleasant scene. It’s a beach. An ordinary scene of an ordinary beach.
Peopled with ordinary happytogether people. Ordinary families. Fathers, Mothers,
Sons, Daughters. A father is carrying his young daughter on his shoulder and
wading chest deep into the white-blue-green waters. He surprises the child
by toppling her into the rushing tide. She emerges wet and squealing. Two
young couples are playing beach ball. They kiss after each point made. A family
of three is laying a picnic mat on the sands. A mother is helping her son
to build a sand house. He places small action figures of the Flintstone family
in the house, while his father watches contentedly, sipping beer from a sweating
can. Fred, Wilma and Pebbles are there in the little sand house. All happytogether.
I see Nisha. She is wearing a careless white tanktop and Bermudas. I see myself
beside her, our arms around each other’s waist. We walk along the margin,
our feet sporadically drenched by a spent wave. Pooja is on my shoulder, squinting
at the sun. We too are a happytogether family. Just like Fred, Wilma and Pebbles.
Nisha bends down to pick up a conch shell. She brings it to her ear and looks
at me, her head cocked, her large eyes like that of a child’s, a light
smile curving her lips.
“If you listen closely you can hear the moans of those who made love on these sands,” she whispers softly. She brings it to my ear. “I can hear us,” I say. She pinches my hand and I pinch Pooja’s feet. And in that instant we meld together as one single organism. With three heads, six hands, six feet and…one heart. A strange word-breathing beach organism. As we walk along the water’s edge, our footprints are quickly erased by an industrious sea, Nisha looks at her palms where a thin film of moist sand covers it like a rough outer skin.
“Like the world in a grain of sand,
The new moon in your smile,
Like the fate line in my hand,
And eternity in this while…”
her words flutter out. She looks at me, gestures me to continue.
“Like starlight in your eyes,
A straw sun in your skin,
Like the blueness in these skies,
And the universe within,”
I clasp her hands in mine and bring it to my chest. The whoosh of the sea scatter our words in the wind. Weightless little words that rise and ebb with the wind and rise again to be caught by lazy clouds of the sea. They will fall somewhere as happy rain and slake the thirst of some family and make them happytogether.
I am not convinced at her, rather silly, theories on morals to soothe my guilt. But then, guilt is just another feeling that I was sure I would overcome. In due course, with or without her help. It’s a lovely world, this world of routine, of repetition that dulls sensitivities and diminishes feelings of guilt, of betrayal and, to a much lesser extent, of sin. Is this tiny guilt because I, perhaps, do love Nisha in some unexplainable way? Do I love her, my wife of eleven years, mother of my only child, to whom I, as Kavitha claims, have never made love? For a moment, I ponder this heavy thought. I look at it differently: would I shed a tear if I were to know that she had suddenly died? I don’t think so. I will get on with life. Collect her insurance, be secretly happy in the knowledge that I would no longer need to pay the HDB mortgage, perhaps bring Pooja over, perhaps… remarry? No, I don’t think I would do that, any way certainly not within the first few years. Not after one bad experience. Bad experience? Was it really so bad? Was she really so bad? I have had happy moments with her. The first six years (of which the first two were in India) of our marriage was really quite blissful, and the three of us were actually happytogether. Well, almost, but then there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, is there? Did she love me, and hence by some unwritten law I am duty bound to love her in return? Did she love me? Would she in turn cry for me if, say, a bus were to run over me tomorrow? Cry for this loser of a husband who can’t even afford a decent car? Her cheeks would remain dry like the deserts of Arabia, I am sure. Then what is this that has kept us together in miserable matrimony in these eleven, sorry, five long and winding years? Why wasn’t that D word — that horrible horrible word — ever thought of as a solution to this misery? Why is this seven-letter word so unthinkable for me? Is it my old-fashioned Indianness, that genetic legacy, that accursed adaptability, which prevents me to even think of that seven letter word? Or is it this sheer current of life that has overwhelmed me like a little leaf in a monsoon drain so helplessly caught in the gush of routine to even think of myself, my feelings, my self-respect, my happiness, my separateness? Or is it…is it this snip of a woman, who has opened me up like a pomegranate and showed me my desires sleeping within me like red rubies…