Book review: Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

I randomly chose the book from a friend’s library, and found the narrative style of the book overall compelling. Age of Vice was a page-turner, and it took me only a couple of days to read this 548 page book! So I would definitely give Deepti points for taking me to the finish line with the story.

The book revolves mainly around 2 characters, and in the later part of the book, we have a 3rd character with a few chapters dedicated to her. The story is about Ajay, a poor Dalit boy from UP who lives a life of service, accepting the cards that life has dealt him; and Sunny Wadia, an affluent heir of a powerful businessman, trying to come of his own. Both characters draw you deep inside – the sharp contrast of their opportunities, life experiences, philosophies and ultimately, their choices. Both characters remain endearing, despite this visible contrast of life : Sunny is a connoisseur of all things beautiful, throwing his money at all his friends and acquaintances, spending his twenties partying and living the high life; Ajay, his personal valet, forever at his beck and call, serving him with a sense of duty, without question or judgement.

The story gives the reader multiple experiences across locations: the cold wintry mountains of the north India, the warm and balmy beaches of Goa, the cut-throat streets of Delhi and the sleepy villages of Uttar Pradesh. There is a generous dose of description of drugs, alcohol, sex and debauchery: but then tales of the rich and powerful would be inadequate without these. There are tales of the poor in UP, the freak circumstances which make people commit crimes, and these tug at your heart. The prison stories are raw, heart breaking and vividly wretched. The combination of these stories made me quite depressed as I was reading them, wondering if these are indeed the reality of some, who live in the same time and space as us?

The story keeps moving at different paces, there are some facts presented, some left as a mystery, unraveled slowly over several chapters. Childhood abuse, violence, murder, rape, drugs, betrayal, power, politics and relationships are peppered throughout the book, keeping up to the main theme of the book: ‘Vices!’. Harsh realities and events turn Sunny, a good man with grand idealistic plans, into one who has learnt to be ruthless in order to keep with his father’s expectations. Ajay ends up in prison, and becomes hardened and drug-dazed with the experiences there. Neda, the woman journalist who causes much of the chaos in Sunny’s life as his true love, deals with despair and heartbreak.

The book takes a tragic spin, with none of the lead characters getting any better with their lives. Events complicate everyone’s lives further- deeply intertwined lives, in the backdrop of the poverty-driven criminals and power-corrupted politicians. A few last minute twists and turns keep the last few pages turning. The ending, while suspenseful, feels a bit dragged out.

While there is much to compliment in the storytelling power that Deepti possesses, this book is not for the faint-hearted. It lives up to its name by describing Vices in their strongest, deepest, truest forms, which are quite hard to fathom for people who lead normal, middle-class lives. I would give it a miss myself, just for how it made me feel about life on the fringes of society!