Last Man in Tower - Book Review

Vishram Society located in Vakola is the ideal target for ambitious developer Dharmen Shah - a crumbling society with two towers, close enough to the Mumbai domestic airport to be a desirable location with jaded occupants eager to lap up the offer of a lifetime. Thus begins the saga of the residents of Tower A as each apartment owner begins salivating at the unbelievable amount of money, upto Rs. 20,000 per dilapidated square foot that holds the promise of transporting their lives into realms that were beyond their imagination. Adiga introduces us to the characters who have lived in communal harmony, sharing meals and tears over the years of living in close proximity to each other.

Mrs. Rego (Batteleship), the Saldanhas, and the Pintos represent the dominant local Christian community of Vakola while Ibrahim Kudwa and his happy family lends the diversity touch. Mrs. Puri, a friend of the late Purnima, wife of retired Masterji, Yogesh Murthy is the key character who drives the residents towards freedom from Vishram, as she aspires for a better life with the money from the sale which can go towards paying for the care of her eighteen year old mentally challenged son. The central character of Masterji, who joins the Pintos in their dissent is etched beautifully by Adiga. The outdated idealogy with his rigid views about people, sharply contrasts with his sentimental memories of his wife and emphasizes the divide with his son. There is a point early on in the novel where Masterji remembers his wife's words "A man is like a goat tied to a pole. You may have free will but only so much." Those words ring true when the momentum builds up as the deadline provided by the builder for residents to accept the generous offer approaches.

All the characters are portrayed as flawed individuals, each responding to their own circumstances, including the characters of the apparently ruthless but physically sick developer Shah and his "left-hand man" Shanmugham. The evolution of the idealists in Vishram from nay-sayers to eager aides as they deviously plan to get Masterji to agree happens gradually and in the process some unexpected surprises are thrown from the stereotypical secretary Kothari and the wily broker Advani. As Masterji faces one challenge after another in his solitary battle once the Pintos succumb to threats of physical violence, the callous nature of the law, the silence of the media and the connivance of his son, you feel terribly for the lone crusader. You almost wish he would turn pragmatic and choose to live even if the money was inconsequential to him. The end is almost pre-decided but still catches you by surprise. After baring the heart of maximum city, Adiga shows how heartless it can be. As a Mumbaikar I may wish otherwise but the taste of betrayal lingers long after the book it put down.