Monday, August 22, 2005

Sunday Mid-Day
June 2005.
here. (with all the other stuff they rated)

Rating: 7.5/10

Review by Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta

Mumbai’s train system is its lifeline, and I’ve always wondered why no Bombay novel has tried to zoom in on it. Jaideep Varma’s Local does. It begins with a map of the Western Railway local train line that tells us that stuff of legend, the distance from Churchgate to Virar, is 59.82 km.

The central protagonist of this Mumbai novel is living a schizophrenic life: his day job is in a multinational ad agency, while his nights are spent, quite literally, on the trains.

But this could be a metaphor for the lives led by the rest of us in this city, too; and it is also a metaphor for the two faces of this harsh, glittering city.

A city that throbs with dreams and desire, but also with a dark force that sucks the energy out of its inhabitants as they return homewards every day. Two planes of existence, almost ontologically different.

Not an easy project. How does Varma’s prose measure up? Not too badly at all.

Let me start with a couple of things that don’t work: he is a talented writer on music (we used to enjoy his essays on music in the now sadly defunct Gentleman), but the passages about music don’t quite work here.

Nor, really, do the train segments move out of the sphere of observant, humane journalism. Some skilful editing could have tightened up these sections.

But the parts that I like best are those that tell of the inside story of advertising, that little seen, little known space where our dreams are fashioned for us.

Varma writes affectingly of the aspirations and intrigues of the men and women who inhabit that space, and of the importance of looking beyond it at the real world outside. Local is evidence of a promising new voice in the city.


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