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”?
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).