Sunday, August 21, 2005

DNA
August 2005


Mumbai expressed

Review by Tripti Vyas

When you begin reading Jaideep Varma’s first novel Local, you are tempted to wisecrack, like Bibek, the novel’s best etched out character, that “One had so little time…he was damned if he was going to devote time to reading second and third rate fiction when first rate fiction, all published in the West, was accessible every day of his life.”

We can all find reasons to not read this book. For it’s neither a Saul Bellow nor John Grisham. For that matter it is not Salman Rushdie or Amitava Ghosh either. But that is precisely the reason why it needs to be read.

A peek into the world’s most public private space – the Mumbai local train, the novel gives the reader an experience of the “rocking homelessness” that Mumbai offers.

The narrator, Akash Bhasin, an advertising copywriter, leads a schizophrenic existence, as he spends his days coming up with smart lines to sell goods to neo cons, and by night lives in the local train shuttling incessantly between Churchgate and Virar. In his comings and goings we experience Mumbai in all its colours and odours.

Mumbai, the city of first world interiors and third world exteriors unfolds itself bit by bit. Akash’s observations, comments and experiences form the main narrative of the novel. This is interspersed with vignettes of many troubled lives. It would be difficult to forget the drunken Mr Shenoy who lives as a paying guest so that he can pay off the housing loan for a flat he has bought for the woman he loves, who in turn, he learns, is using it to ply the oldest trade in the world. The crumbling marriage of Akash and Rati, two friends plotting to seduce each other’s husbands to gain the upper hand in their married lives, the balding, pot bellied Subhash, who sincerely believes he is model-material – all become a part of the Mumbai experience. These people in the book are its biggest strength.

About 60 lakh people travel on Mumbai’s local trains every day. Which means there are that many stories yet to be told. Like Mumbai city, Local is flawed, the writing is uneven and the editing erratic, but in it you find Mumbai as you and I experience it.


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