Vishram Society is a middle class building. Once pink, now a rainwater-stained, fungus-licked grey, surrounded by mangroves and malarial clouds in Vakola - a cluster of ambiguous dots that cling polyp-like to the underside of the domestic airport. It is home to respectable middle class people - a retired accountant, a social worker, a real-estate broker, a cyber café owner. And an old teacher (who wants nothing. Isn't that dangerous? To want nothing in Mumbai? In life?)
Then comes Dharmen Shah, a builder. Your typical self-made, rags to riches Mumbai story. Dealing with a troublesome teenaged son, choked lungs and the overwhelming desire to build his own 'Shanghai'. He offers to redevelop Vishram and sells the dream of a better life to the residents. Every man has a price. Not Masterji. Or so he believes. He refuses, first for the sake of his friends, then for his memories. He calls himself the last man in tower who'll fight the builder mafia. But to what end? Is he the hero or the villain? Is he the idealist or the nihilist? Is he the victim of his ego? Or is he victimizing his neighbors?
Adiga says he writes to provoke the reader. To that extent, he succeeds. Deadlines and threats chip away relations built over years. Greed and dreams compel people. Masterji is boycotted by his students, neighbours and then his son. At some level you empathise with them too. Is it a sin to want more? Is the individual's right bigger than that of the community? The book throws up many questions, exposes human failings, shows how characters sink in the quicksand of desire.
Last Man In Tower lacks the satire of The White Tiger. It's a stereotype, sketched in great detail. It has no hero. No winner. It leaves you sad and sober. What should you want in life? Who can you count on? It depicts Mumbai as the city of dreams and nightmares, potholes and power. It's the Mumbai of Shantaram and Slumdog Millionaire. Its the Mumbai of people crushed under the weight of their aspirations, caught in the facade of respectability. Of the selfish middle class man who has slogged forever and finally wants to make it big, whatever the price. Even the life of an old neighbour.