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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wet Paint 

It having been eons since I crossworded anything, I mindlessly picked up a copy of “Keep off the Grass” by Karan Bajaj and managed to plough through soon enough. It’s one of those debuts where a reader can sense the maniacal urge to throw the proverbial kitchen sink and the dish-washer in, angling for a semblance of cohesion somehow. Despite the pitfalls, it came off a tad better than I had feared.

The premise of a ABCD ( a Yale investment banker !) yearning for a return trip fructifying in the shape of an IIM-Bangalore admission was banal enough, that the path to Indian hell was paved with good intentions made the landing somewhat bumpy still. While a B-school romp has not been dealt with too many times earlier, the familiarity with which Bajaj takes us through RG-giri, obstinate classmates, cold-blooded geniuses, accidental philosophers, midnight study sessions, Summer Placements, frustration forced out an inner disquietude-- in an academic cauldron is real enough, and is the mix of characters that he throws up in quick succession. The protagonist in the first person experiences the rigours of an Indian competitive system for the first time and is distracted by all he surveys even as he attempts to hold on to his individuality and ambition.

While the angst and paranoia are apparent, Bajaj dips into the ready smokescreen of easily available drugs on campus a little too eagerly and as a result, meaning and cohesion which otherwise would have made sense are rendered equivocal and ambiguous as all his insights and ruminations appear to hit the reader through a coke-induced giant haze. The plot meanders inexplicably as Samrat Ratan , the narrator, takes off on a ten-day meditation trip with his best friend after which they encounter drug hippies, vagabonds and foreign day trippers in North India. The recidivist and becalming summer internship is handled well enough and the book ends with a vague invitation to find one’s true calling and doing what one wants as the best way to solace and succour.

Yes, the journey itself has been done before, nonetheless, Bajaj has something to offer to the uninitiated and the writing remains sensible and does not stumble on the needlessly bombastic. The objectives of throwing a garbled mixture of philosophy, knowledge of India-her land and dialects, vignettes of campus life among very bright people are clear enough yet I came away with the feeling that Bajaj either backed away from telling a story or wanted an end-game that displeased nobody. I am just a wee bit bothered about a writer who refers to the course as Vipaasana ( having done that myself , in B-school too, unlike the author ! ) and not “Vipassana” and who gets some geography mixed up, and who finally commits the cardinal sin of introducing the incomparable Ruskin Bond in the last chapter. The slightly sneering condescension comes through too in some “pseudo-metaphysical discourses” and in the recourse to familiar settings and that colours the otherwise readable book.

A 6.5 on 10 !

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