Sunday, April 14, 2013

Book Review: 55 a novel by Chetan Chhatwal


The book’s blurb reads: Arjun Singh is a typical South Delhi brat whose biggest worry is securing a much coveted seat in one of the city’s top colleges. But his ambitious plans come to a screeching halt when he scores a paltry `55’ in English in the board exams. Unable to meet the cut-off, Arjun is forced to take admission in a neighbouring second-grade college. Between grappling with his identity as a Sikh and facing repeated misfortunes in love, Arjun’s only solace is his three best friends from school who have also ended up in the same dump. What will happen to his future now?

The author, Chetan Chhatwal, has degrees in Mathematics, Computer Science, and an MBA from London Business School. He currently works as a management consultant in London.

The title of the book `55’ intrigued me. As explained in the blurb itself, it is the percentage of marks the protagonist – Arjun – scores in English in his final board exams. This score forms the pivot of the entire book; as it leads to Arjun securing admission in a shady second-rate college; the ragging that ensues; the lectures which he bunks; the relationships that he forges, etc.

The book is a coming-of-age bromance between four boys who move from school to college and finally make serious decisions as far as their careers are concerned. The book narrates the adventures of Arjun and his three best friends – Rishi, Partho and Gaurav – when they secure admission to St Augustus College of Delhi University (DU). The book takes us through the lives of any college-going kids though it does focus specifically on the lives of DU students. The lingo used is something that any DU student can identify with – travelling by the DTC buses, ‘First Div’, ‘subsis’, etc. The author paints a rather vivid and somewhat grim picture of the ragging of first-year students by the second and third-year students in the college.

The boys spend most of the three years bunking their way through college; preparing for studies by mostly attending a professor’s tuition classes and mugging up for exams only at the last instance. Like any other teenage, college-going boys, girls form the focus point of their existence. Though Arjun’s friends do not have any serious relationships, Arjun falls for an older Radha. A large part of the book is devoted to developing their interactions and how they deal with their feelings for each other.

The character of Arjun as a spoilt brat has been built up nicely. He is elitist and irreverent; he adopts an almost condescending attitude towards all the other students at his second-rate college. At home, he is being used to wait upon by a full-time maid and a driver. The aspect of his being Sikh and thus having to keep his hair long and wear a turban has also been nicely elucidated.

The book does suffer from a few grammatical errors which some more proof-reading could have avoided. However, these are few and far between and can be overlooked in the larger scheme of things.

I am going with 3/5 for this novel.

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy by Random House India, the publishers of this book.

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