Here is another book which is perhaps a thinly disguised autobiography, a debut novel by an author (Sangeeta Mall), writing about fictional characters set in her real-life alma mater IIM, Bangalore. Is it a female version of Chetan Bhagat, a wannabe chick-lit, or serious literary fiction? It is hard to classify this novel about Shruti Narayan (nee Malhotra, aka Ruts), ex-IIM grad, now NRI, who is visiting Bangalaore for a weekend reunion, twenty years after leaving the place.
The book is well-written and neatly flashes back and forth from the present to the past, as the skeletons emerge with old classmates coming into the scene. The language is realistic and dialogs authentic. The story is utterly believable and told in an unselfconscious first person narrative that is laced with tongue-in-cheek humor. We meet a whole bunch of characters from the past with quirky nicknames like Rats, Captain, Curry, Jaggu and Paxi. The central theme of Shruti's discomfort with th whole idea of revisiting IIM is revealed in bits and pieces as the story about her friend Priya unfolds. College friendships, the urge to try something new and exciting when stepping outside the comfortable boundaries of home, the naive belief in good-bad, right-wrong, dealing with conflicting feelings of loyalty and jealous, are seen in the petty rivalries and competition in the college campus.
It is heartening to see Shruti's struggle in trying to find her old (or is it young) friends in these new middle-aged creatures that she confronts. Some things have changed, much hasn't. The story is not just about what has transpired to make the once-rebellious youth into conformists but about finding that core characteristic of each individual that made them your friends (or rivals) and reconciling to the new reality.
While Shruti's perfect marital situation with an understanding husband and well-behaved kids gets a little jarring, it is Shruti herself who comes across as a regular person with her quota of diffidence and insecurities. The strength of the book is not the story which is fairly pedestrian, but in the telling of it. It is a comfortable read, interesting enough to keep you turning pages but a tad too long.It is a coming of middle-age story.
In the final analysis, personally, this book seems to be new wine (of the chick-lit variety) packaged in an old bottle, with huge doses of nostalgia and the wisdom that comes from hindsight. And it tastes pretty good.