By Arnold Zeitlin 17 March 2023
Author Deepti Kapoor is angry. Her sprawling, picaresque novel, Age of Vice, is an expression of that anger. Her angry prose has made the book an American best-seller, attracting Hollywood (not Bollywood) movie makers. Kapoor is angry at the corruption from the top down in her contemporary India, the poverty, the gentrification that forces the poor from their shanty homes to make way for shopping malls for the elite, the criminals dominating federal and state legislatures, the extravagantly wealthy Big Men who support these criminals.
Out of her sprawl come three major characters. One is Ajay, sold away from his poor untouchable (Dalit) family but in a somewhat Candidean manner rising from his mean caste to attach himself to the wealthy Sunny Wadia and enjoy what may be the best of his all-possible worlds — until it isn’t. Forced although innocent to take the blame for a speeding Mercedes Benz sedan jumping a curb to kill five, including a pregnant woman, he goes on in this narrative to become a Glock-carrying serial killer of at least six more.
And there is character number two, Sunny, the morose, self-obsessed, too-often stoned son of a ruthless business man father whose wealth and ability to bribe allows Sunny to become another sort of untouchable, able to walk away untouched from his misdeeds. Character number three is Neda, daughter of a middle-class family, a father with terminal cancer, a mother desperately trying to hold the family together. Neda is a reporter for a New Delhi daily, fascinated initially by Sunny’s clumsy efforts at entrepreneurship, then so sexually enraptured by him, she allows him to ruin her life.
They are surrounded in his tale by a huge caste of other characters, many awash in alcohol, weed and other drugs, about whom the reader is told more than he or she really wants to know in an abundance of repetitive verbiage that might tempt some to take a magic marker to race through this text excising unnecessary portions.
These excesses aside, Kapoor creates a cunning narrative that should spur readers to flip pages quickly to discover what outrageous twist comes next. This discourse rumbles to a surprisingly anti-climactic ending at which Kapoor contains her anger sufficiently to restore somewhat India’s tainted honor and save her major characters, perhaps, for a sequel.