Novel character: Mumbai in Sacred Games is just one of many cities to play a pivotal role in a book

Novel character: Mumbai in Sacred Games is just one of many cities to play a pivotal role in a book

Several Indian authors, much like Vikram Chandra did in Sacred Games, have also explored cities as characters in their novel and sometimes even titled their work of labour after them.

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Benaras, Delhi, Mumbai – here’s a list of Indian cities which play important characters in novels. (Source: File Photo)

A character in Sacred Games says, fairly early on in the series, “Mumbai sheher hain yeh/Kuchbhi ho sakta hai idhar”, (It is Mumbai/Anything is possible). The Netflix original — adapted from Vikram Chandra’s 2006 novel of the same name — unfolds over eight episodes and the city, in all its grunge and glamour emerges as one of the most principle characters in the story.

Chandra’s is not the first, nor the last to cast a city in such an important role. French poet Charles Baudelaire painstakingly depicted the filth of Paris in his poems, all the while maintaining his inability to leave the place and Bill Hayes’ wonderfully intimate novel Insomniac City (2017) presented a lonely portrait of New York that bound two lovers, Hayes and Oliver Sacks.

Here are some Indian authors, who’ve done the same.

Calcutta by Amit Chaudhuri


Published in 2013, Chaudhuri’s book was described by Guardian as “a strange book”. Calcutta is the city where Chaudhuri was born. Chaudhuri navigates the readers through the city’s alleys, and dilapidated buildings, eavesdropping on the people who live within. Calcutta in his novel is a city that is posited in the midst of change. Stores he used to visit as a child have irrevocably changed and so has the city. In this haunting tale, Chaudhuri examines these changes and in the process reveals how utterly linked he is to it.


City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by William Dalrymple

Published in 1993, Dalrymple in this novel probes the multifaceted nature of Delhi with the precision of a master. His Delhi explodes with colours, legends and djinns as the author retraces its past from Indira Gandhi’s death to colonial rule. Seen from the perspective of a Scottish man besotted with India’s history, the book is hugely entertaining and extremely informative.

Delhi: A Novel by Khushwant Singh


Delhi had been Khushwant Singh’s muse through his writing career. His historical fiction, Delhi: A Novel, published in 1990 is a magnum opus on the city, and in many ways the author’s love letter to it. Laced with characteristic irreverence and wit, the novel spans 600 years and features a protagonist who is hopelessly in love with the city. He travels through time and space to discover and rediscover his known space and in the process meets people who had helped in shaping the city the way
it is now. Singh’s novel is intriguing, enriching and perhaps one of his finest works, hinged totally on Delhi’s shoulders.

Banaras – City of Light by Diana L Eck


Published in 1982, Eck’s celebrated work captures the soul of one of the oldest cities in the world. The book describes the city’s history, geography, the myths and the legends that make the city. Through her writing, she sheds light on the importance of the city and its ability to draw millions of people to it every year.

Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash


Mumbai is often touted as the city that never sleeps. It is a city that knows no fatigue and is constantly lurching ahead. Published in 2010, Prakash’s novel explores the city, its dubious morals and unravels them through the many scandals and twists and turns that it witnesses. The novel was later adapted by Anurag Kashyap into a feature film, Bombay Velvet (2015).