The Solitude of Emperors
‘We do not know what to do with one of our most precious resources, solitude, and so we fill it with noise and clutter . . .’
Suffocating in the small-town world of his parents, Vijay is desperate to escape to the raw energy of Bombay in the early 1990s. His big chance arrives unexpectedly when the family servant Raju is recruited by a right-wing organization. As a result of an article he writes about the increasing power of sectarian politicians, Vijay gets a job in a small Bombay publication, The Indian Secularist. There he meets Rustom Sorabjee-the inspirational founder of the magazine who opens Vijay’s eyes to the damage caused to the nation by the mixing of religion and politics. A year after his arrival in Bombay, Vijay is caught up in violent riots that rip through the city, a reflection of the upsurge of fundamentalism everywhere in the country.
He is sent to a small tea town in the Nilgiri mountains to recover, but finds that the unrest in the rest of India has touched this peaceful spot as well, specifically a spectacular shrine called The Tower of God, which is the object of political wrangling. He is befriended by Noah, an enigmatic and colourful character who lives in the local cemetery and quotes Pessoa, Cavafy and Rimbaud but is ostracised by a local elite obsessed with little more than growing their prize fuchsias.
As the discord surrounding the local shrine comes to a head, Vijay tries to alert them to the dangers, but his intervention will have consequences he could never have foreseen.
The Solitude of Emperors is a stunningly perceptive novel about modern India, about what motivates fundamentalist beliefs, and what makes someone driven, bold or mad enough to make a stand.