Book Review of “Above Average” By Amitabha Bagchi

Above Average

By Amitabha Bagchi

From the new wave of writers not many have been able to sustain a constant position in the mind and bookshelves of readers. Either they end up being “one time” hit or completely lose the spot. Amitabha has managed to rise from the regular IIT/IIM stories to tell a tale of introspection and the worries that our youngsters of our generation really face.

The story is about a middle class Bengali boy raised in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar. Arindam Chatterjee (or Rindu). The story (if I may call it so) moves from Rindu’s life in school, his personal life (especially in his residential area with friends in the “society”), his life in IIT and his present stand at Baltimore.

His childhood days of family outings, his experiences with people of his society Mayur Vihar (residence) and at college are very relatable.  The author spins a web of dreams, aspirations, life, family, friends, and unrequited love in the backdrop of educational nuances slowly materializing into a ball of introspection and self-belief.

Instances of college life are quite descriptive, enlightening and funny. One good thing about the book is that this is not a typical story about life in IIT/IIM –it is more like different episodes of Rindu’s life and what becomes of him down the road.

He seeks admission at IIT to study Computer Science, befriends some of the smartest talents; juggles with exams, class work, his desire to be a drummer, his love for math, and of course Aparna – his unrequited love! He grows up to realize that CG (Cumulative Grade) and DR (Departmental Rank) make a person’s worth at the IIT.

The description of festivals, places and people is quite interesting, but sometimes takes away from the main idea. Certain places in Delhi, the atmosphere in the hostel, the unsaid and unwritten rules at IIT, the protocols amongst the seniors and juniors, the professors’ perception of the students, personal life of Rindu and his friends – all are very well described.

Rindu’s character is that of a very decent, young, quiet boy with feelings, hopes, insecurities, fears and desires of an average man. It registers quite instantly in the reader’s mind.

Quite a few instances of Rindu’s life are rather humorous with a subtle emotional touch at times.

His friends – a bunch of dysfunctional youngsters like Rocksurd- a Sikh who smokes, and ends up cutting his hair; aspires to be a drummer; worships the devil; is ridiculed by his peers; and bears much spite because he doesn’t have what it takes; Kartik –a bassist and a so-called genius, but a malicious character sometimes; Neeraj- who hails from a government school; aims at winning the Turing Award; shares more rivalry than friendship with Rindu; and is torn between an abusive family and an intense love for his little niece, Chanda;  Sheikhu (Rakesh)- an intelligent bugger who ends up being a satti in the Computer Dept rather than a nauki; then there is Bhatts; Aparna- his love; Bobby (a friend from Mayur Vihar); Bhavna; Abhilasha; Bagga; Karun; not to forget Pandit – a charsi yet true musician in the eyes of Rindu; and of course Maiti, an `elder statesman’ at 22, who couldn’t pass his course, (and as the narrator expresses -there is a Maiti in every campus in this country).

One of the most interesting characters was Professor Sridhar Kanitkar, a genius who was admired by everyone, but it seemed that he callously held back the best students, so that they didn’t end up achieving more than he ever did. His classes were more of logic (funda) than rote (ratta).

At one point I did feel there are many characters, keeping a track of which got a little tedious. But the flow of the narration just got a wider and colorful with each character. And towards the end I did not see it as a flaw.

There are instances that reflect the stark truth of society. Neeraj is selected for a Ph.D (despite his low CG) just because Rindu is a “satti” (a seven pointer), who eventually goes on to do his Ph.D in Computer Science from Baltimore, brings to light the flawed and inconsistent standards of judging academic worth that exists in colleges. Then there is a chapter that draws attention to the secret society of the SC/ST candidates which makes Rindu feel like an outsider in spite of being friendly to them all throughout.

It is amazing how debutant author Amitabha Bagchi does not adhere to the mundane linear plot lines, but brilliantly shows interconnected links as he moves the action from past to present. From Delhi to Baltimore. A challenging task skillfully handled.

It is a refreshing read and you grow to love the disjointed instances that seamlessly start connecting as you turn the pages. As your mind moves with the story back-n-forth, the eagerness to read further increases progressively. There are quite a few beautiful lines penned by the author. This campus fiction novel, bringing to light follies of academic life and the unassuming look on life at IIT and after, is worth a read.

All the eight chapters of the book balance and bring out the jovial, strong as well as the emotional and self-depreciating aspects of Rindu’s life. The constant struggle between human aspirations and achievements rises as the underlying theme of this novel.

Amitabha’s bluntly honest work shows the battle for grades that students rate as academic achievement. It is one of introspection and a reality check. It asks the forever dreaded question: What would you prefer – the safe route that most follow or the road-less-travelled, full of struggle and sabotage at every point?

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