Book Review: by Vishal Bhatia

Posted on 22 Apr 2016 under Essays

Disclaimer: I was contacted by the author through email to write a review of this book. I agreed. The book was delivered to me free of cost. No other conditions or constraints were placed on me. by Vishal Bhatia is the second book I’ve read recently written by a new/aspiring Indian author (the previous one being the atrociously bad The Recession Groom by Vani). This one is significantly better, but considering the low benchmark set by Vani, that’s not saying a lot. Ultimately, taken on its own, this is a book that starts off with a lot of promise, but becomes a bit of a mess by the end, mostly because of the terrible editing. It feels as if the editor received payment mid-way through the assignment and then just couldn’t be arsed to do a good job thereafter.

Credit must go to the author, though. There are a lot of aspiring authors in India, but very few actually successfully publish a book. The rest maintain boring blogs, write vignettes and review others’ books (hmm … that sounds familiar). Anyway, on with it.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Jangsher Singh, aged 15, tries to seduce a girl in a village in Punjab and gets caught by her brothers. In typical Punjab style, they hack and slash him and leave him for dead. But since all of this happens in only the first chapter, he survives and goes on to become India’s best tennis player ever, reaching the finale of the Australian Championship. There’s a parallel plot about two cousins, Aman and Yug, who drive a really expensive car that doesn’t belong to them. They cause an accident, get blackmailed by the accident survivor, and then a lot of other things happen (not getting into the details in order to avoid spoilers), as a result of which they have to figure out a way of making money fast. And the way they make that money is by creating an unofficial website for Jangsher (I think the name of the book comes from that website … which we’re only introduced to after getting through almost two-thirds of the book), and then selling it at a premium.

The plot is functional, in that it serves to get you from Point A to Point B, but it’s generally not very engrossing. All along, you know where you’re going, particularly with Jangsher’s story, which almost never goes off the beaten track. There are a few more twists in the side-story about the two cousins, and that adds some drama and spice to the plot. Characters generally react in a realistic manner to the events that unfold, and thus nothing feels jarringly out of place. Some parts are too long and boring (one tennis match is described in detail over almost 30 pages), there are a couple of passages that add absolutely no value whatsoever (like a couple of pages dedicated to Jangsher flirting with a random girl at a random party, before his drunk girlfriend appears to escort him away). One can make an argument that the novel could have used a bit of trimming to make it crisper.

Characterization is not bad.  I’m thankful for the consistency, even if the characters are somewhat uni-dimensional. Jangsher’s character is the only one that changes, going from being a strong, calm, unfazed fighter in the first few rounds of the championship to a damaged, pain-filled, hurting, emotionally-exhausted shell of a man who still manages to put up a good fight in the end. Yug and Aman enjoy a good dynamic with each other, complementing each other’s personalities. Other than the cousins, the other characters are forgettable. In fact, it almost feels as if Mr Bhatia almost forgot them too. Jang’s mother makes her first appearance on page 225 (out of 337 pages), a brief appearance necessitated by a plot element. She’s introduced thus: “Tina, his mother, blessed him as he knelt and touched her feet.

And then there are all the nicknames. Omaigod, WHY does everyone (and everything!) have to have a nickname? The tennis players that Jangsher plays against have nicknames that EVERYONE uses more than their real name, even in the dialogues. These are nicknames like “The Assassin” and “The Bull”. Heck, even the bloody sportscar that Aman and Yug almost lose is called “Flame”. Obviously, this is an attempt to raise some level of excitement or awe towards these characters. But personally, I found it fairly grating and cheesy.

And now, to the technicalities of writing: Vishal NARRATES way too much instead of letting us find out the story through the eyes of the protagonists. This doesn’t happen very frequently, but when it does, it feels lazy and unimaginative. However, this is made up by ambitious attempts at incorporating interesting metaphors and vivid descriptions. Sometimes, Vishal gets over-ambitious. The descriptions get into details of how engines work, how the brain works, etc. It feels a little clumsy and boring, which is a cardinal sin. The intention is positive, but it doesn’t always pay off.

Where the book fails massively is in the editing department, something that cannot be blamed on the author. The most basic mistakes appear here. Homophones (“your” vs. “you’re”), typos (“unthinkinkable”) and errors I don’t even know how to describe (“curtsied” instead of “court-side” … yes, I’m serious) appear multiple times, way too many times for any self-respecting editor to allow. It’s difficult to take seriously a book with such a low level of quality in the end-product. Bah.

In summary, is a decent first book by a new author, and provides signs of encouragement. There are flaws, but the flaws are born of ambitious attempts at writing quality literature. If you can get past the unforgivable editing, the core of the book is not bad.

Rating: 3/5

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