Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review | 31 by Upendra Namburi

India's answer to James Patterson.
Baba O'Riley by The Who on Grooveshark (We think Baba O Riely is a great accompaniment to this book. And if you're wondering why its so familiar, it's the theme tune to CSI New York.)

Do you ever find yourself reading a book and thinking, "damn this would make a great film." Sometimes it's just a such a work of brilliance and you can't wait for someone to being to screen the visual images you have created in your mind; bring landscapes and characters to life like Lord of the Rings. Sometimes however you think, "this might actually work better as a movie!" That's what I felt about Upendra Namburi's 31.

The book is essentially a day by day account of one month in Ravi's life. Meet Ravi- a retail banker in charge of a zone that has managed to do well right at the cusp of February and March, that golden time before the year closes and everything depends on the March numbers. Just as he begins to warm his backside on his laurels, something big blows up in another part of the world, rocking his universe over 10,000 miles away leaving him gazing an April without a job as the bank decides to undergo a major cost cutting initiative. "How do I make sure I am not on the list?" is the game that Ravi has to play during the thirty-one days leading up to the 31st of March when the list is due to be announced. Adding to the drama is a crafty little vixen, an ethics case and a crumbling marriage.

Nambudri has managed to create a suitably claustrophobic aenvironment where he throttles his poor protagonist, slowly turning the screw on him by hitting him with one problem after another. The big problem is that after a while, it begins to read like a script to a movie and you're aching for more description because it is after all a novel and not a movie script. Dialogues go back and forth like a ping pong ball and more often than not you're grappling with characters, which there are far too many of. Constant dialogue can become tedious if it's not completely necessary or not well thought out.  There is a reason why all script writers cannot become novelists- description, pacing and scene setting is critical to a novel. Here, the pace is set on one setting- full speed ahead. When he does use description though, there are some nice lines like -
  "The 6'3" imposting frame had a ridiculously large paunch perfched precariously over a black alligator-skin belt." 
It was one of the few occasions where I could actually picture something, and it made me smile. But without pictures, the characters soon begin to merge into each other and it's hard to empathize.  There's a Kumar and a Kanwar and nothing to help me tell them apart expect their roles in the bank and so I really don't care if they get eviscerated. 

The author has however managed to create a utterly unpredictable protagonist in Ravi. He is everyman you know, just another cog in the wheel desperately trying to come out on top. You know that he is a good man and yet his choices baffle you, like the choices of many good people in real life. While I struggled with the pacing and the constant dialogue, I prevailed because I did want to know what happens to him at the end of it all. Did he hold to the some sliver of integrity or did he get into the sandbox and play in the muck with the rest of them? Nambudri also handles family issues with a sense of maturity as he portrays, quite realistically, the inherent male chauvinistic tendencies of corporate India.  He doesn't apologize for it either. 

I do however feel that some of the risque dialogue between the male characters was a little exagerrated. I don't recall, "Bl*&jobs" ever being uttered in the workplace and I have worked in banking for over ten years. But then again, I am a woman and as my husband pointed out, they probably wouldn't have been happened around me in the first place. 

Some of metaphors and analogies are also off, "you look like a woman on a bad hair day." What does that mean? Harassed? 

After a bumpy start, however, it ended up being a good ride. Once you settle into the pace and accept the fact that it's not going to change, you begin to enjoy the unfolding drama and a tightly woven plot.  It's safe to say that Upendra Namburi will soon become India's answer to James Patterson. 

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