Monday, August 22, 2005

Review in Gateway (Business Standard)
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Strangers on the train of life
by Jai Arjun Singh

During the day, Akash works as a copywriter in an ad agency, LCM, in Mumbai. For the nights he's worked out an atypical living arrangement for himself : he sleeps on the trains on the Western Line. It's cheaper than renting an apartment and not so bad if you can cope with shady characters and irregular sleep patterns (trains must be switched in the middle of the night: "walking on the overbridge connecting the platforms," he says, "I had the tangible sense of moving from yesterday to tomorrow").

Jaideep Varma's Local is a provocative account of life in a bustling metropolis, as well as an entertaining peek at the insanity of the advertising industry. The writing is occassionally uneven, it could have been edited better but it's very readable on the whole, with a structure that mirrors the experience of travelling on a train, stopping at some stations, bypassing others. Though the main story is Akash's, we also get short chapters on some of the people whose lives intersect his - friends, colleagues, a persistent wannabe model who turns out to be a loon. These vignettes illustrate how the pace of modern life leaves us with little time or energy to understand the people we live and work with on a daily basis.

At Varma's book reading in Delhi - a mercifully small, dignified affair - he spoke with feeling about the lack of literature that deals with contemporary Indian life in a no-frills way. Local, free as it is from the trappings of exoticisation and posturing (still one of the banes of Indian writing in English), helps fill that gap.


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