06 February 2011

Show me a hero by Aditya Sudarshan

The slow thriller

I don’t like the expression “coming of age” to describe a book. It smacks to me of primitive, and suspiciously unhealthy, puberty rites. The publishers have used it here because, I suppose, it deals with a period in the life of a group of youngsters who experienced certain events that moved them from, say, one rung of maturity to another.

Instead, if this book must be labelled, I’d prefer to call it a slow thriller. Its plot builds up gradually, with sharp teasers that promise action ahead inserted at widespread intervals. The matter of suspense itself is plausible and carefully constructed, and when surprises happen it is with elegance - in fact, more elegance even than drama. I liked that.

Reading the simple dialogue and easy descriptions which don’t bother to contextualise situations for those unfamiliar with them, superimposed with the strong characters and the complexity of their thoughts, I started thinking fondly back to Raskolnikov from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and emailed Aditya Sudarshan to ask whether he had perhaps been influenced in any way by the great Russian novelists.

He replied: “I've not read the classic Russian novels properly. I've read some short stories by Chekhov and a few by Gogol. I think I can see why Chekhov has the reputation he does, but that style of dealing in impressions and images doesn't feel that close to me personally. I like more ‘narrative’ oriented short story writers, like Roald Dahl or Daphne Du Maurier.”

When I asked him to tell me something about himself and his influences as a writer, Aditya mentioned that two of his favourite writers were G K Chesterton and Scott Fitzgerald – and that the quote show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy is Fitzgerald's.
He also said that he had studied law at the National Law School in Bangalore, and then worked with a criminal lawyer but took up writing full time and has been doing so for nearly four years.

When I heard that Aditya could have easily been a highly-paid and eventually high-profile lawyer instead of a writer, it made me wonder (as any overbearing Mummy might) what his parents had made of this switch. It also reminded me that Vaibhav, the hero of this book, lives in Delhi, away from home, and works for a wildlife organisation, a niche sort of occupation reasonably well indulged by his well-off parents though I must admit my sense – perhaps imagined – of a certain amount of forehead slapping on both sides.
So I asked Aditya how much of this book’s hero Vaibhav was actually him, and he replied that he had used different aspects of himself for all the three main male characters in the book.

What I liked best about this book is that it is occupied by a population of highly intelligent people.
Reading it, I tried to think about when I had last met so many people together, making the kind of perceptive and thought-provoking remarks I came across here and, honestly – I don’t know if it’s ever happened. Perhaps back when I was school? Or perhaps occasionally, with some of my (grownup) children’s friends. But it’s not that common in daily life. After all, most of us adults are nothing but lazy and mediocre whether in ability or sensitivity or wit.

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