Book Review: The Symbol

The Symbol by Varun Gautam

The Symbol by Varun Gautam

There is this strange fascination of engineers with wanting to be a writer. Some take the bait and follow the path, too. But the trees that line the path are old. The ones that Chetan Bhagat planted, or the ones that he rested under. Perched on the same familiar tree is Varun Gautam, an engineer-IT guy with a penchant to write. I came into possession with Varun’s debut novel, The Symbol, a while back. The cover of The Symbol does little justice to the title or the story. If it tries to integrate something that happens in the book then, well… it doesn’t. The back cover talks about the author, who is an engineer, and started writing school board articles (is that a big thing? I don’t know) and has now “taken a new impetus with the advent of his first book.”

The Plot (Spoiler Alert)

There is this strange fascination of engineers-turned-writers with entrance exams. Varun Gautam, tells an entrance exam story, yet again. The Symbol is a story of a young boy Arjun who is preparing for India’s toughest medical entrance examination. A strange character in himself, which the author likes to call “binary”, Arjun is on track for selection in the super-hyped IMS college when he loses focus due to a beautiful accident and an unpleasant incident.
A shallow and self centered person, Arjun is annoyed when his undeserving best friend inherits a fortune. He finds solace in the arms of a beautiful girl. Eventually, Arjun fails to make the cut in his exam and becomes a slave to despair. Life gives him a second chance to redeem himself and The Symbol, supposedly, is his beacon of salvation.

Does he redeem his lost life? How does The Symbol help? Or rather, what is “The Symbol”?

The Verdict

Arjun’s heartbreaking story is told by his cousin Dhruv, who has a half baked sub-plot of his own to tell, which contributes little to the story of The Symbol. What evades me completely is the fact that a book titled The Symbol gives the least importance to The Symbol itself.

Frankly speaking, Varun spends a lot of time giving the central character Arjun a back story and painting the picture of his personality for the reader. Sadly, he wastes way too much time telling you about incidents of the past and people who do not matter. More than half way down into the book, you somehow feel lost and make peace with characters which sadly, do not have an impact later on. The story does gain pace in the latter half, or rather the last quarter but to get there takes time. Varun also riddles the book with long soliloquies about success. While I found all that philosophical gyan a little boring, you may like it.

The writing is not the best or the most entertaining, but the climax somehow redeems the book a lot. Advice for the second book? Well… Try humor, try having fun… And next time you write a book about something, give that thing its due importance.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Special points for a couple of scenes narrated and thumbs up for the cricket story to start every chapter (Totally personal).

Signing off,

Aman

Book Review: One and a Half Wife

While the Indian author community is hell bent on churning out meaning-less love stories that can be seen all around you, here is one new author who begs to differ. Meghna Pant, a financial journalist by day and an author by night, picks up a wonderful story to tell as a debut novel. One and a Half Wife is like a dab of fresh air and carves a different niche for itself among the collage of zillions of books by Indian authors these days. The back cover of the book states the story of Amara Malhotra who immigrates to America to achieve the Great American Dream but leads quite an unremarkable life until she marries a Harvard educated millionaire, Prashant Roy. However, that is far from a fairytale ending and her marriage crumbles. After which she is caught between two worlds of obedience towards her parents and new friends who encourage her to move on.

The Plot:
The story begins in Shimla in 1991 when 14 year old Amara Malhotra is taken by her mother, Biji, to several fortune-tellers around town to foretell her fate. The prophecy of a fortune telling parrot says that she will be a One and a half wife some day. Biji, a conventional Indian mother, refuses to believe in fortune tellers who predict bad fate of her child and keeps her hope alive to get the Green Card (American Citizenship) for which her brother (Dua Mama) had applied in the US. The lives of Amara, Biji and Baba (Amara’s father) change gears as they get their Green Cards and head to the USA. The Malhotra family cracks the kernel of the ‘dreamland’ called America to find out the shady insides of prejudices and divides among the Indian-American community, much to their astonishment. As the Malhotra family struggle to cope with their new alien abode, Amara is almost ostracized as an outcast among the American schools which follow a very different culture than what she had grown up in.

While Amara’s Dua Mama was supposed to be a rich Godfather for the Malhotra family, opportunity comes knocking on Amara’s doors when a Harvard-educated-millionaire-Prashant-Roy’s mother selects Amara to be the bride for her only son over Dua Mama’s American bred high-class daughters. Much to Biji’s delight, her purpose of seeing Amara settled in America finally becomes true. But life is not that easy for Amara. As she battles a hollow marriage, her parents struggle to sustain after being rendered penniless due to the high cost of marrying-off their daughter. Amara’s Amercian dream is shattered after six long years of a failed marriage and her parents fail to resign themselves to the fact and fate of their daughter.

Much to the family’s horror, they are socially ostracized by Amara’s divorce and the Malhotra family returns to Shimla after sixteen long years in the US only to find how much India has changed and developed both in in face and facets. Divorced women, still, as they find out are not as welcome here and Amara has to deal with angry parents, goons of the local moral police and battle societal norms as she finds her dignity and rightful place in the end.

The Verdict:
Meghna Pant chooses a very bold topic for her first novel and makes sure that she treats the subject with the required delicacy. The novel, is less of a story and more of a journey that the author takes you along with Amara. On several occasions, one can relate with one of the many characters or their lives in the story at many different levels at that. You cannot help but develop a relationship with Amara and Biji right at the beginning of the story and feel the connection grow stronger as you feel closer to the character with every leaf you turn. The novel takes you to a roller coaster ride into Amara’s life and her relationships and you can’t help but feel sympathy with the unfairness of life with her. Even the little subplots and characters have stories that you can’t help but feel is something that you have heard somewhere. All in all the book is a fantastic reflection of reality and many of its unspoken problems.

The two lead characters of Amara and Biji have been defined with utmost care and a solid foundation is built into the minds of the reader. Every emotion and every situation is aptly acted upon by both Biji and Amara, given the kind of people they are. Although Baba, has a silent, but very strong presence throughout. When the characters act the way you would had you been in their shoes, you know that you are staring not into the words of a book but into the naked face of reality. Frankly Speaking, One and a Half Wife is by far one of the best books that I have read in a long time. Kudos to Meghna Pant and congratulations to her on having written such a wonderful story. What should be said has been said, what’s unsaid, dawns on you slowly but surely.

My Rating: 4.5/5 and a very strong word of recommendation. Order it now, you’ll not regret it. Miss it and believe me, you’re missing an unknown face of life.

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Book Review: You Never Know When You’ll Get Lucky!

Graduating from one of the top B-Schools of the country and then jumping onto the band-wagon of writing books and love stories at that seems not just to be a trend but a habit in India these days. Such is the story of yet another IIM graduate, Priya Narendra. You Never Know When You’ll Get Lucky! is Priya’s first book for an Indian audience after having published one in the UK earlier (the name of which I was unable to find out sadly). You Never Know When You’ll Get Lucky! is a hardcore romantic story written from the perspective of Kajal a Copywriter in an advertising agency in Delhi. Priya herself being a copywriter, many incidents, in the book, come from her own experiences.

The back cover of the book defines Kajal as a sassy, never-afraid-to-make-an-idiot-of-herself-in-public copywriter who decides to put her love life on hold to focus on her career and this is when after making umpteen mistakes to find the right guy for her, she accidentally meets the perfect man for her. It also states the choices in love she has as well as the collage of problems and difficult-to-deal clients at work. Well, for now, I’ll just say, this is one book you should not judge by it’s cover.

The Plot:
You Never Know….. is the story of Kajal, a copywriter living in Delhi and hails from Meerut. Kajal is a modern days’ girl, in her late 20’s who would prefer to get married to the guy who she falls in love with, but her mother is hell bent on getting her married off to one of her friend’s son Bunty. Kajal has a life that is too unbelievably fucked up. (It seems that either God or the author is one of her arch enemies.) She meets a guy Dhir at a wedding in Delhi, while running away from Bunty. She finds Dhir perfectly compatible for her, but can’t date him because he lives in Mumbai and it’s ‘impractical’ to be in a long distance relationship according to her. Even at work, she is the subject of all jokes in office and is not getting anywhere on the professional front. She gets into a hurried love affair with an acquaintance of hers but gradually ends up dumping him in front of his parents when she finds him to be too possessive and rather spineless. Meanwhile, she meets and makes friends with a neighbor who is famous as an accused ‘molester’ after he saves her life.

Now as luck would have it, she again meets Dhir while visiting Mumbai on an official tour and ends up stranded with him when a massive rainstorm hits Mumbai. It is then that the two fall in love and decide to give their relationship a chance. Once back in Delhi, the rest of the book revolves around how Kajal cracks a crucial ad campaign for a condom company, how Dhir and Kajal try to work out their relationship and what finally happens to Bunty when he goes down-on-one-knee for Kajal in the middle of a crowded New Delhi Railway station. I shall leave all of that for you to figure out.

The Verdict:
I was always curious about what went inside a woman’s head and Priya Narendra takes me there and makes me stay for all 231 pages of her book. You Never Know When You’ll Get Lucky! is a chick-book if that is a term. It is written by a quill borrowed from the stands of Cecelia Ahren and the Mills and Boon clan. The book is funny in parts and paragraphs but to you have to make an effort not to do a million things you would rather do than to read it through. Copywriters no doubt may be obsessed with brands but naming so many of them is unfair to the reader who has no idea about all the restaurants in Delhi and Mumbai and the clothing and fragrances that girls wear. Also, girls may like to talk in short-forms but when writing a book, one should take care that there might be guys reading it and googling is just not possible for everything. (But thanks to Priya, I now know who an MCP is or what being AWOL means.)

The characters of the book are pretty much predictable, except Bunty, and the one thing that I liked the most about the book that Priya gives closure to every sub-plot once she started it. Unfortunately, there too much of Kajal in the book to care about an other character and Kajal has been described well. The writing could have been far more formal, so that it didn’t look like I was reading a personal blog of a girl or eavesdropping on two girls gossiping about their love lives. The narration is smooth and picks pace after the initial few chapters.

Though it did not exactly work out for me, but frankly speaking, this a book that girls will surely find as a good time pass read. It’s the kind of book you pick up before a journey to kill time and qualifies for a stretch read (in case you are not carrying your iPod along.)

My Rating: 2.25/5

PS: One request to the author, please use smileys only while chatting or texting. Use words instead, to convey emotions.