“Last Man in Tower,” by Indian author Aravind Adiga, is a story of struggle for personal freedom, better lives and huge sums of money.
Unfortunately, as the characters of the novel find out, they cannot have it all. Money may come at the cost of their humanity.
The story begins by introducing residents of Vishram Society Towers in the rapidly growing city of Mumbai. The towers are getting old and need repairs. Although a sign promises the residents “Work in Progress (Inconvenience is Regretted),” it seems more like, as one youngster puts it, “Inconvenience in Progress (Work is Regretted).” It is in this state when a developer, known only by Mr. Shah, offers the residents 19,000 rupees per square foot, or on average, 330,000 American dollars per family for the outright purchase of all flats.
All the residents of Tower B accept the offer immediately, but for the neighbors in Tower A, it seems too good to be true. The residents question if the offer is just a cruel joke. Many question if Mr. Shah will be able to pay out as much as he has promised.
Some trust Mr. Shah, but many residents, including one with Communist leanings, a family with a handicapped son and a nosey cleaning lady, still want to stay.
None are as opposed to the move as the aging Yogesh Murthy. Known by his neighbors as Masterji (a respected name for teacher), Yogesh has lived in the tower for over 30 years, tutoring their children and getting along with everyone. It seems as though Masterji will never say yes to the proposal, and, unfortunately, all the residents must agree to Mr. Shah’s deal for any of them to receive the money.
Eventually Mr. Shah convinces and bribes the residents of Tower A to accept the deal. All the residents, that is, except Masterji.
Masterji’s will power is severely tested by those he once called friends and neighbors and even his family. Simple bribes, pleas and warnings about his physical and mental health aimed at changing the old man’s mind soon grow to threats, intrusions and even estrangement from his son and grandson. Masterji and his neighbors find themselves caught in a war of wills, and there’s no telling where the neighbors will stop to get this “last man in the tower” to change his mind.
The novel not only depicts the struggle between one old man and his neighbors, it depicts the struggles taking place all over India today. Although the traditional order of castes has all but left the cities, there have grown two more distinct groups: the rich and the poor. As one resident of Tower A puts it, “Life is good… It is not perfect, but it is better with money.”Additionally, the novel portrays the struggle many older Indians face as their country becomes increasingly modern. Masterji seems to be a symbol of the India of the past—fighting against the change his younger neighbors are greeting with open arms.
“Last Man in Tower” presents a tale of the power one man can hold, while its setting in India in the late 2000s only comes into mind when the characters mix the mention of saris and cell phones seamlessly into their daily conversations.
With humor, honesty and an extraordinary understanding of human nature, Adiga has captured a timeless tale in “Last Man in Tower.”