26 December 2011

Mumbai Roller Coaster by Rajorshi Chakraborti

Love, education, and saving the world
Mumbai is different things to different people. As I read this book I didn’t really get the sense of the Mumbai I know, which is, in essence, about staying afloat and doing your own thing in the midst of, and despite, overwhelming crowds of others doing their own thing. It was more the kind of Mumbai experienced by people who live in hygienic, isolated homes and spend time mostly with others from similar spaces, interacting with the city primarily through the safely-closed windows of their air-conditioned cars. A very small minority. But it’s this minority that Rahul and Zeenat belong to – and very likely to which readers of this book will also belong.

I liked the fast-paced action in Mumbai Roller Coaster. It starts with a dead body – slowly dripping blood on our hero. Capture and escape follow, a number of times, in quick succession. The plot has intriguing twists and at one point I wondered whether this was science fiction. It wasn’t. Mumbai Roller Coaster is about bourgeois kids and is a fun book that might get bourgeois kids to understand the dangers of a world ruled by giant corporations with brainwashing strategies of the nature of:
Thus in a topsy-turvy world, those who wish to pursue the path of common sense must sometimes resort to such drastic underground measures.
Rahul and Zeenat are at different schools and carry on their romance in an abandoned construction at Khar. Like other parents of kids like them, Zeenat’s
were very strict with her. They had warned her numerous times that her ‘career’ should be the only priority in her life right now, with all the exams and other challenges coming up over the next few yeas, and lost no opportunity to remind her of the sacrifices they were making to be able to afford her various private tuitions, as well as her violin, modern dance, and tennis lesson, so that she would be as well-rounded a candidate as possible for one of the insanely competitive full scholarships she’d be applying for the following year at several top American colleges.
I liked Zeenat’s dad – he watches Simpson’s reruns and honestly does not know which channel MTV is on. But I did worry a little about whether he (and Zeenat’s energetic Ammi) would be ok with a book where the characters are quite so free with the use of f**ker, ch**t, and, er, ‘dickhead’.

One of the things that worried me about this book is the strong class divide.
When they get off to change buses, the stop is
on a narrow, ill-lit sloping side street, which didn’t look like it was served by any major bus routes. On both sides were gates to large blocks of flats: tall buildings hulked above them, making the now-evening sky appear even further away. No one else had got off here: it was the kind of stop that only the domestic help or drivers who worked in these flats would probably ever use.
I tried to remind myself how prevalent it was in the Victorian novels where only the upper class consisted of real people. But in an India, and especially a Bombay, where education is available to most kids and everyone knows its value, where everyone is up and coming and pretty much equal, I didn’t care for the way Rahul and Zeenat patronise Ganesh, the shadow hero of their book, even though this is very likely the way a real Rahul and Zeenat might. I still don't think an author should endorse it.

One of my favourite bits in this book is when Rahul is riding home victorious and notices, while talking animatedly to his father, that everyone at his end of the compartment was openly eavesdropping and staring. He hangs up, and then his copassengers start chatting with him, demanding to know what was going on. I loved the lies Rahul made up – they were really funny. And I enjoyed the descriptions of the other passengers and the different groups and thought processes they constituted.
But Bombay commuters don’t get into conversations like this. Nobody listens; nobody engages. People get off where they are going without noticing anyone in the compartment.
So I went online to check out Rajorshi Chakraborti and found here that he had lived in Bombay as a child, leaving at age 11 for Calcutta, and that explained a lot.

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