"'Sanjay, of course, didn't know that Film City even existed, even when he grew old enough to grasp what was going on around him. To start with he grasped nothing much except his mother's breast. There wasn't a lot in that, but luckily there was enough. Other chidren in Sanjay's row of hovels were given more water than milk. The water wouldn't have been sufficient even if it had been clean, which it never was, just as it was never cool. On the Bombay pavement, clean, cool water takes time and effort to come by.'
"A brilliant celebration of the Indian film world and a most moving story of on young man's striving for fame and fortune, The Silver Castle is both comedy and tragedy. It is an exceptional novel, sharp and sincere, but also full of love for humanity and its perpetual failure."
The pavement where Sanjay was born, and lived out his first difficult years, can only loosely be described as a pavement. Mainly it consists of packed earth, irrigated at intervals by rivulets of sewage. Americans would call it a sidewalk and be more accurate, because at least there would be nothing paved about the word itself. But in India the English language harks back to the Raj, so a stretch of hard dirt like Sanjay's birthplace will always be called a pavement, and give you the idea of something impermeable and slick instead of what it is - friable, porous, simply waiting to be washed away. About an hour and a half by bus out of downtown Bombay on a busy day, a right turn off the main road leading northish through the coastal suburbs takes you through yet more suburbs to an area where there are enough trees and scrub so that you can delude yourself for a few minutes that you have left the city. But leaving Bombay is never that easy. The ragged-edged asphalt two-lane road up through the low hills leading to Film City, where much of India's enormous movie output for any given year is created in a concentrated version of that uniquely subcontinental business atmosphere combining somnolent chaos and last-minute urgency. For a long stretch, on the left side of the road as you drive up, a low-level shanty town scaled down for crouching people is laid out in a linear manner on the bare earth, a sort of ribbon development for the unfortunate. There are garbage dumps with women pissing behind them and men pissing on top. Someone's mother-in-law is dying in full view on a spread sack in front of her front door while a couple of listlessly copulating dogs teeter past her mute scream. A little boy gets kicked in mid-shit by his elder brother. Meanwhile Film City, ony a mile up the road, is providing an alternative and more easily contemplated reality. When Sanjay was tiny, the Film City back lot had just started to grow too, but like him it was unmistakably there. They both exuded the energy that makes growth seem inevitable. In India, where life is much chancier than we are used to in the West, the inevitability of growth is quite a thing to exude.
From the Jonathan Cape hardback edition, 1996.
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