Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Tribune, Chandigarh.
June 2005.

Link here.

Hard to catch
Local by Jaideep Varma.
Indialog. Rs. 250. Pages 357

Review by Harbans Singh

FOR those interested in English writings of Indian authors, Jaideep Varma’s maiden novel, Local, is a welcome addition. It reflects the new and confident face that modern India has acquired in recent years and, therefore, it need not be judged by the need to encourage English writing in India.

The novel is rather a dispassionate account of the life in Mumbai, the local train and an ad agency. The characters and situations have been countenanced in the same impersonal manner as the life is lived there and yet they stir the heart and provoke the mind.

This happens when Sabina discovers her spurned and probably diminished self, when Neha makes a desperate but vain attempt to get even with her husband or when Subhash is baffled by the improbable reality that according to his count his son has been in the womb for 10 months.

Through the character of Akash Bhasin, we witness these characters fighting their own demons and, in this unequal battle, often succumbing to the pressure. There are people who are scared of the impending burnout and then there are those who find meaning in life by reliving glory that is irrelevant to present.

Once in a while the fragility of the characters surfaces without warning, as when the protagonist breaks down on his inability to reach out to the real or imaginary presence of Rati on the adjoining platform, or when Akash teams up with Subhash to reunite a mother with her young children.

The characters that fill the pages are as varied as the people boarding and getting off the local train, and, just as one comes to know them only in transience so are the people with whom Akash works. This aspect of the novel is both its strength and weakness.

There are too many of them and though we do not come to know them intimately, they do leave an impression on the reader. But then, perhaps, this is what actually happens in the urban life as well as in a local train, where everything is seen, but in passing. Like the Doppler effect, just as one is left contemplating the state of mind of Sabina, one finds that Bibek has already left to find out where the deleted e-mails go.

Though the novel is fairly fast paced and brings out the metropolitan character, a shorter version could have been more effective. From the loneliness, stress of marital adjustments, cutthroat competition and jealousies of the professionals, old, unwanted people to the alienated and Subhashs of this world, everything is there. Many evoke sympathy and, at times, one feels as if by some quirk of fate, one has landed on a platform from where all one can do is watch the train speed away from the other platform.

The end comes abruptly and looks out of tune with the hitherto dispassionate character of Akash; and the acknowledgements are as long the acceptance speeches at the Oscars before an upper limit was placed on these.


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