Monday, August 22, 2005


Mumbai Mirror
July 2005.

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The man who lived on a train

First time author Jaideep Varma's book Local is a must read for every Mumbaiker

Melvin Sterne

When I first came to India, in the fall of 2003, I was introduced to a young writer named Jaideep Varma, who I was told had a book-in-progress to show me. I met the author, an earnest and pleasant, energetic man, took the manuscript, and promised to read it on the road. At the time I was working through Independence Day, Richard Ford's Pulitzer Prize winning novel (not to be confused with the movie of the same name). But a funny thing happened along the way. Perhaps it was in Jaipur, or Delhi, or Bangalore, but one night, alone in my hotel room, I laid down Independence Day and picked up Local, and (much to my surprise) couldn't put it down.

Local is the story of a twenty-eight year old advertising executive named Akash who, after surviving a painful divorce, moves to Bombay and lives on the train (rather than pay outrageous Bombay rent for a flat). Following Akash through his days at work and nights in the city, Varma spins a complex tale of Akash's growing disillusionment with the fast-paced, highly competitive global/corporate workplace. At the same time, he skillfully interweaves narratives about the lives of people-both ordinary and extraordinary-that Akash meets on the train.

This is no ordinary novel. Probably no city in the world is more torn by the cross-currents of globalization in conflict with culture and tradition than Bombay. Where else could you find a university professor turned "professional defecator," a taxi driver aspiring to be an actor, or any of the other assorted loonies, hopefuls, and social climbers Akash meets; whether they be poor people from the countryside sucked through the turbines of Bombay's economic engines, or the wealthy, aggressive young executives hatching Machiavellian plots to vault over one another and up the corporate ladder? Within this magnificent setting Varma locates a wonderful, personal, and moving tale of Akash's transformation, one that will both amuse readers with his razor-sharp insights into the ironies of the business world, and pain them with his poignant observations about life in one of the world's most intriguing (and difficult) cities.

It will be tempting for critics to pigeon-hole Local as just another facet in Bombay's literary diamond. But though it is set in Bombay, it is not merely a Bombay story. Who of us has not been hurt in love, disillusioned at work, shocked by injustice, or pained with insight into the suffering of others? This is a book that should be read with interest by people everywhere-for at its heart it is a compelling story of the human experience. The only thing "local" about it is the title.

(Melvin Sterne teaches creative writing at Florida State University. He visits India often, is currently researching a forthcoming novel.)


Blogger mala pandurang said...

dear Mr Verma
My name is Mala Pandurang and I teach English Litt at SNDT Matunga. I have been invited to present a paper at the GNEL conference in Chemnitz in Germany in May. I am working on fiction based on Mumbai trains and have been trying to get hold of your novel for the last one month. with just 10 days to go, I have almost given up. Could I buy a copy from you? I will need it urgently and am willing to send you courier charges.
with regards
Mala Pandurang.

8:12 PM  

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