Life in a metro

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Life in a metro

All the three books have been launched under the banner of  ‘Metro Reads,’ a new introduction from the Penguin stables. Metro can either be interpreted as being Metro-based stories, which all three are. Or alternatively these books are intended for light-reading whilst travelling on the Metro. For cities, which have yet to get their own Metro rail, you can read them anywhere: Bus-stops, train stations or airports, since they are perhaps not intended to tax your grey matter too much.

Of all the three, it is Dreams in Prussian Blue, which, though initially progressing at a languorous pace that leads up to a surprising end, really has the reader sitting up. The mystery of the choice of one colour, Prussian Blue, in the title and the sub-head, When Love Kills… is intriguing and gets explained only as the story progresses.  The book has some interesting insights:  “Like for a writer or poet, a particular combination of words makes a sentence more striking, so should colours be pregnant with that kind of meaning for a painter?" The limited characters lead to the plot being weak and implausible in places, but the twist in the tale and the epilogue succeed in making up for these shortcomings.  

The novel, Where Girls Dare clearly reveals Bhavana Chauhan’s autobiographical experiences in the Officers’ Training Academy in Chennai.  Interspersed with humorous observations like Murphy’s Law of Combat, the book succeeds also in bringing out the strict regimentation of the army in comments like, “The Indian army is male-dominated, no doubt, but it runs on a strict rank structure. It has enough rules and regulations to ensure compliance.”  There are other pithy insights too like, “One suicide and the media goes nuts over it, questioning whether ladies should be there in the army or not.  As if there are no problems in other professions, such as call centres or software companies.” Or, “In the real world, you will find many different people — as colleagues, bosses, even loved ones; people with strong opinions and attitudes about your career choice and your role.  You can't wish them away.  You have to face them, fight them, exist and flourish, despite them.” One wonders whether the book was drastically edited, as the ending does not satisfy.  While succeeding in improving one’s general knowledge, it seems to lose out on building a good story around the OTA backdrop.  

Looking at the sub-head Romance at Work on the book cover, one gathers a certain impression about Amrit N Shetty's Love over Coffee.  But the novella turns out to be much more than an office romance, as it takes the reader through the gamut of happenings in an IT company; the intrigues, the insecurities, the office politics, the hypocrisy of the appraisals and of course the overbearing bosses waiting to note your shortcomings on computer spreadsheets!  The author who works in an IT company cleverly brings in his autobiographical experiences in this debut novel, while managing to retain the pace of the narrative. Each character in the novel is different from the other and Shetty skilfully delineates them as the story progresses. Whilst most of the employees in the company "wrote lines of code that managed to hold together," there was Bhau who "breathed life into them."

Shetty analyses the IT industry in the words one of the characters who says, "In India, IT is an illusion, where everyone wants more than what he has and everyone thinks, he or she deserves what they desire for."  The author also speaks about the "thin line that separated the world of IT from the days of college".  Since most of the employers recruited straight from colleges, "these employees had little time to learn about the work culture or the industry norms. They still continued to think that they were in a college of a different kind."

Of all the three books, it is Love over Coffee that shows the most promise.  Yet it  is disappointing where the romance is concerned, as there is limited focus on it.  The love between the two protagonists, Anup and Rajni seems jejune and reads more like a school infatuation than an exploration of a love that has marriage as its objective.  Some loose threads and poor editing are the other shortfalls in this book of great promise.
All the three authors will likely go beyond the Metro novel to something more in depth. 
Despite the fact of the Metro novels being meant for casual reading, each of the authors has brought in a sense of analysis to the subjects around which they have spun their stories. One wonders whether their styles have been stymied by the prescribed page limit of under 250 pages.  If so, then Penguin might do well to increase the word limit  to help its writers and make the Metro Reads a little more interesting for the readers.  

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