Monday, August 25, 2014
Pause Rewind Play
There was a time when books had two distinct target audiences – children and adults. Since then, especially after the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter series, there has emerged a new breed of readers – young adults, referred to the people from pre-teen to post-teen years, before they realise that love, dreams and ideologies are not enough, you also need to do a job at some point of your life (sorry for being the cynic!).
There are no rules, however. These readers could be either young or old. The young adult readers are not confined to a particular genre or a kind of writing. They may like anyone from J K Rowlings to Susanne Collins to our own Chetan Bhagat and Ravindra Singh. What young adults readers want is a young hero they can identify with, a more tortured, idealised version of themselves, somebody with extraordinary problems, real issues; the story must narrate how the hero or the heroine overcomes these hurdles.
Interestingly, however, most authors of these young adult fictions are adults themselves, grown men and women, with experience of life and with skill and facilities for narrative structure and language.
This is what makes me ponder over as I finish reading Priyanuj Mazumdar’s novel ‘Pause, Rewind, Play’. Priyanuj is a teen-ager himself, a student of Class 12 and he has written the novel in first person, about a group of friends in a school very much like his, complete his classroom antics, the ups and downs of friendship, the pangs of first love, those youngsters’ love for hard rock, especially, the band Lamb of God, and the whole nine yards of being a teen-ager in a modern Indian city.
I am tempted to assume that the story is autobiographical. It may be. What surprised me are other socio-political issues that the teen-age author brings to the mix, from describing the natural beauty of the state of Assam, to highlight the issues of insurgency in the North East (the narrator’s younger brother was killed in a bomb blast.). More surprising for me is how sensitively the author handles these issues.
And, I am surprised by the last chapter of the book, which is set seven years later after the events narrated in the novel, when the group of five friends meet again, after spending years apart, as they went on their separate ways to pursue higher studies. In this, the author narrates the lives of those friends in the last seven years with succinct detail, their achievements and their regrets. As a critic, I found the chapter superfluous. It had not business to be part of the book. Yet, it is the most skillfully written portion of the book; a testament that Priyanuj has it in him what it takes to be a successful writer.
Another aspect that sets the book apart among the clutter of popular fiction being published in India today, whether by teen-agers or adults, is that the book is set in the North East, Guwahati to be precise, and the book makes it a happy place, unlike what the rest of India makes of it, despite an occasional bomb blast. Priyanuj’s Guwahati is not a rudimentary city ravaged by years of insurgency and corruption, but a place thriving with music and hope, with all the trappings of a multicultural identity, from multiplexes to Pizza Huts. His description of the city has the beguiling simplicity of first love, which cannot be dissected or judged, but has to be experienced with a sense of giddiness.
And then there’s music. In the Indian context, North East is known to be a haven of Western music, especially Shillong. Now, the novel establishes that there is a sizeable fan of hard rock in Guwahati as well, where it is quite plausible to take a trip all the way to Bangalore just to attend the show of the band, Lamb of God.
Krish, student of a posh city school, has a dream, to start his own band and win the school competition. The problem is solved when Annie joins their class. She sings well. Now, Krish and his cronies, Adi and Ria, make up with another friend, Joe, the best guitarist in the school. They have the band ready in no time and despite the pressure of studies, they start to practice and generally have fun, -- the glory of being a teen-ager. Krish even gets a girlfriend for a while. The school band competition, unlike a cheap Hollywood script, is not even the climax of the story Krish narrates here. The story is his life itself, how he must grow up and go to the next level, even if it breaks his heart to do so. So, they win the band competition and even gets a contract to play outside the school. (All fiction is an act of wish fulfillment and I am all for giving the young author a chance.)
Then there are other things, including a terrorist attack. Krish is heartbroken as his girlfriend dumps him for not sending him enough SMSes, his friends experiment with narcotics, and so on. And, the year ends. School is over and friendship must pause.
Frankly, there is no plot as such. The action moves from one event to another in a linear structure, in the course of one year. There is no beginning, middle and end, as required by a classic story structure. Yet, when Priyanuj describes a situation, he can hold the reader’s attention. He makes the readers care about these teen-age issues, which frankly, are no big deal. Another thing where he excels is the dialogues. They are crisp and age-specific.
Understandably, the author is young and he will need some more experience in writing to muster the structure of a novel form. There are occasions where his descriptive passages sound the extracts from a school essay. This is more of an observation than a criticism, because whatever he writes, his language is impeccable. He has good command over the language, including vocabulary. I really wanted to find some mistakes in his sentence construction, but I found none. This is indeed a high praise considering how so many popular English language writers in India write such atrocious English. Even Priyanuj uses Hinglish, and other popular colloquial usages, but he uses them judiciously.
I am not saying this is a great book, despite the fact that it won the best novel award in Guwahati Literary Festival and Book Fair 2012. However, the book is a pacey, interesting read. And, for the readers outside the North East, who still know very little about Assam, the book can give you a sneak-peak into the lives of teen-agers in Assam, who essentially are the same everywhere, though some of them may have lost their kin in a bomb blast.