Monday, May 07, 2007

Bagchi’s Above Average

Amitabha Bagchi’s debut novel Above Average (previously mentioned here) tells the story of Arindam Chatterjee. When we first meet Rindu - as he is known to his friends – he is a middle class Bengali adolescent growing up in Mayur Vihar in Delhi. He is settling into his new surroundings and establishing early relationships that will inhabit his teen and coming years. He tries his best to fit in – while constantly feeling like an outsider.

Rindu’s story is told in subjectively focused episodes and character sketches, moving back and forth in time and peppered with local references. It’s a format challenging enough that it could collapse in the hands of a first time author.

But Bagchi’s novel works rather well with this structure. He mines the emotions that sustain friendships and acquaintances – both real and hoped for. And this anchors even the most indulgent parts of the narrative.

Later, Rindu finds himself studying Computer Science at IIT – in considerably different territory. The milieu changes but the mechanics of establishing a social niche stay the same. Rindu balances the demands of his class work with a desire to become a drummer in a rock band (a guitar would take too long to master and there were already enough bass players around). He learns lessons in masculinity. He discovers how personal worth is calculated in terms of CG (Cumulative Grade) and DR (Departmental Rank). He develops an affinity for the theory of Algorithms. He falls in love.

By telling us about the people who inhabit Rindu’s universe, Bagchi is able to deftly flesh out the character of the narrator. And Rindu emerges as a decent, sensitive chap with hopes, fears, needs and insecurities that are reflected in all of us. He is easy to identify with and get behind.

The book is laced with engaging details - descriptions of specific locales in Delhi, the history behind some quirky IIT nicknames, a face-off between adjacent hostels after the results of a GRE subject test are announced, the protocol behind playing Carrom in the common room.

The melancholy that informs the narrative is often yoked with droll humor. In one instance when Rindu’s romantic notions of reading to his girlfriend have just been abruptly dispelled he tells us “The truth of what she said rang through my mind like the proof of a theorem.”

It’s a style that is emblematic of the book itself – one that makes you want to chuckle and sigh in the same breath.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the book for its in-depth exploration masculinity in the Indian context. I was struck by the issues of interpersonal violence (competition) and intimacy in an all male setting.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the sensitively written review, Aspi.


Unknown said...

Amitabha, thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed the book.

Mind Rush, Amitabha could write another book all about your observations, I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

Mindrush, the heart of the book is the tension between competition and comradeship. I'm glad you got that.


Anonymous said...

I too love Amitabha Bagchi's book 'Above Average' its a great book and i feel like i am a complete different person after reading the book. I would suggest everyone to read this book. I picked this book coz i saw this book at and it was listed among the 5 best books for the award. I am sure this book will be the winner. All the best to Amitabha Bagchi.

Anonymous said...

It's a nice book. Liked it. Just finished reading it. A light read, if I may classify it as. So no harm done.

musical said...

Gotta' read this one sometime!

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