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"Neti Neti" - book review
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I picked up this book (by some Anjum Hasan) mainly because it is English fiction set in present day Bangalore. And it didn't disappoint on that count.

It stars a 25 year old girl called Sophie Das, who's come to the city from Shillong and works in a company that subtitles American movies. The story spans a few eventful months of her life, including a stint in Shillong where she goes for a vacation. There is nothing particularly gripping about the plot. At the same time it's novel and moderately funny enough to keep you hooked to the end.

Sophie's friends work in similar new age jobs that centre around outsourcing, some live in rented houses with flatmates, and one of them is a drummer for a rock band called Little Idlis (groan, eh?). Almost everyone has a significant other so there's a good chunk of relationship dynamics. With these people in place, the author brings in many elements of daily life in Bangalore that form part of their lives. The best of these is the running theme of Sophie's landlord - a Mr. Bhat who has borrowed money and built houses just for renting out. Sophie keeps having run-ins with him due to her incessant smoking, booze parties with guy friends (where a bottle drops down and smashes on the ground floor window) and clambering over the gate after the 10 p.m curfew.

Another track is of Baba Sampige who's become the new craze among many middle-class, middle-aged types who organize satsang-s on his birthday among other things. Of course Mr. Bhat is a big fan too and Sophie's friends adroitly exploit this for some favours. Then there's her boss Maya Singh, the daugher of an army man who has class issues with a hard working junior called Shanthi Gowda who becomes a favourite of Maya's superior Naomi who's visiting the office from USA.

Bangalore's roads and traffic and the car fixation of young people are accurately described. For example, this is what she has to say when Sophie's auto-rickshaw makes a sudden stop causing panic for drivers behind:
"The cyclist shouted out as he pedalled away, making the gesture that every aggrieved motorist in Bangalore makes to every offender in his path - an extending of the arm with the palm spread out, a gesture that seemed only to be motioning towards the offender but actually did much more. It conveyed disgust, ridicule, anger. It said more than words could say, for in the universe of the streets whose only law was movement, it was not always possible to stop, cause a traffic-jam, push shirt-sleeves up, insult and be insulted in return."

The sequences in Shillong are more introverted and intense, where a lot goes on inside Sophie's head though the town is a much calmer place. It's here that some of the literary tendencies of the author show up. But it never fully becomes what Chetan Bhagat writes in his 2 States, (paraphrasing): If this were one of those literary novels that wins awards I would spend two pages describing how beautiful it was, using all kinds of similies.

Overall, this book has enough stereotypes - both good and bad - to be able to relate to. I managed to forgive the egregiously bad parts - like Maya Singh coming from an unhappy family and being a closet lesbian. Because it's not often you read of characters driving from Shivajinagar, to Brigade Road and then Bannerghatta Road looking for any open restaurants because it's very late in the night. And then the cops stop them and demand 2000 bucks because they trace a whiff of wine, which is haggled to rupees 1000.....More Bangalore novels please! :)

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