January 26, 2014 Leave a comment
Siddharth Tripathi’s ”The Virgins” carries the ominous tag of “written by a young MBA riding the bandwagon of Indian publishing revolution”. I am scared of most books falling in that genre, usually, much as I would love to be a part of that bandwagon myself.
How does one become a man? Three young friends are about to find out.
The book revolves around the lives, friendship and coming of age of Guggi, Bhandu and Pinku? Guggi is the sexpot fun seeking school bully, who comes from a lot of money, Bhandu is a middle class bred studious jock looking to discover fun, and Pinku is the much poorer struggling to get by bloke who tags along. Or, so it seems. Their friendship has undertones and dynamics that range from protectiveness, subservience, adulation, affection, cunning, to betrayal and tragedy. The irreverence of adolescence, the crushes, the archies cards with poems written by a friend, the first encounters with a failing relationship- Pinku, Bhandu and Guggi, grow up and grow apart. A little too far apart.
The book is set in the city of kashi/ varanasi, and stays with the small city feel throughout. The life and times in a smaller city in the 90s was remarkably different from that in a bigger city, and the life now. There are the touches and flourishes in narration that can make you smile very now and then, and I think. Siddharth captures that nostalgia very well. And in occasional bursts, it hilarious.
The book has a linear storytelling style. The flashbacks, as they come, derail the pace of narration. And somewhere in there, lies the biggest challange of the book. The three central haracters as well as the many peripheral ones don’t get the depth that they deserve. Almost all of them are presented somewhat frivolously. The parents, the parents, the teachers and the mentors. And doubt not the potential, for the chracters are extremely relatable, and people we would have seen in our school days. Maybe, some of the goony stuff would be missing. But that would be just about it.
There are times when I am very glad that someone writes on these themes and social setups. Given the dearth of quality indian literature that captures the psyche of that era of growing up in the 80s and 90s, most of the folks from my generation resort to facebook sharing of old telly serials, advertisements,and listing of things we used to do. Or, we watch Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar. Some of us would remember Goonj, the TV serial. When I read hindi literature, I am awed by the depth of charaterization in the pre independence era stories. Or even some of the stories set in in 60s and 70s. However, 80s and 90s seem to be the industrial revolution conundrum. Just as india skipped the industrial revolution to move straight to a services revolution, indian literature skipped that generation to jump straight to the 21st century. There arent any wonderful literary records of the life and times in those two decades. When the current indian workforce was discovering its identity. Or the lack of it. The old moralities were dying, and the new was yet to come in, the world was not a standard unified place where either everyone was looking for independence, or where everyone was looking to gain personal independence. I am a firm believer of history needing to be preserved not just through the eyes of the historian, but also in the literature of the generation.
Or, maybe, a lot was written but I missed all of it.
Does this book attempt to go there? Not deliberately. I doubt if it even attempts to. It seems to be a simple enough tale that many of us would have grown up with. Dramatised for extra effect. However, in trying to tell the story of three kids from small city, the book does preserve some cultural references. And thats a good win. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia, and hence, not sepia tinted. It just is an account of things that happened in the lives of three kids who are on the verge of loosing their innocence.
It doesnt matter if the book is not the best written or the most flowing book. I enjoyed reading it one sunday afternoon, thinking about the times I had left behind in a small school in a small town, and wondering whether it still is the same.
Not the best, but a good debut by Siddharth. I wish him well for his future works. Looking for a lazy read, go for it. Looking for a stroll down the memory lane. Read it.