Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Rain: Sriram Subramanian: book review

Rain: Sriram Subramanian
--reviewed by Divya Dubey
200 pp
Rs 250

[Published by Hindustan Times, Dec 10, 2016: ]

It isn’t every day one comes across an architect-cum-interior designer protagonist in a debut novel by an IIT/IIM graduate. Sriram Subramanian’s Rain establishes its distinctive features right from the very beginning. The fate of Jai Dubey, the hero, hangs upon a major project which his firm, the Phoenix, needs to finish to perfection within a tight deadline for him to be able to earn the big bucks required to build a dream house for his wife, Sarika. This commitment to her and her mother, Mallika, comes as a spur of the moment decision, recklessly announced during a heated argument with them, in order to compensate for the sacrifices Sarika made for his sake when she married him. She stays with him in a small apartment, having relinquished her parents’ old, lavish home in the south of Pune. Jai’s resolve is further strengthened by a prediction
of his doom by the end of the year from Sarika’s esteemed family astrologer, Pandit Borkar.

The blurb of the book says, ‘Architect Jai Dubey trusts in reason – not in faith and prayer. When Fortune deserts Jai and his carefully ordered life spins inexorably out of control, he stands on the brink of ruin. Only a delayed monsoon can save Jai’s biggest project from disaster.…’ In this the text is a tad misleading since it makes one believe that the plot hinges upon the dark clouds looming large at the horizon and the disaster they threaten. It doesn’t. Because disaster does strike and it strikes pretty early on in the novel as a result of Jai’s misplaced trust in an old friend and business partner, Ravi, whose habit of cutting corners and rushing on with the job leads to this inevitable debacle and, consequently, Jai’s poverty when even Sarika deserts him and returns to her family. Even though these developments are foreshadowed in the book, the early climax leaves the reader wondering – what next?

Sriram Subramanian
Surprisingly enough the hero’s quest is not to build the dream house in spite of the odds he faces – as it appears initially – but to rediscover and reinvent himself. To achieve that he has to lose everything he has first. Considering the trajectory the book takes after the first climax, Subramanian has a great deal more to offer through his complex plot and subplots – involving a dead younger brother (Sunny) and a potential mistress in the background. The narrative moves from the here and now to the spiritual realm: personal guilt, turning within for answers, evolution and redemption of the self; from luxury to poverty; from upper-class circles to living on the streets, engaging closely with the riff-raff and being sucked into their daily lives. It is here that the personal becomes political and themes ramify through various major and minor characters: Ashok, Sarika’s big brother – a political goon and a type of anti-hero Jai abhors; Iyer – the owner of CafĂ© Royale – in his short exchange with the bully officer in-charge demolishing his property as witnessed by Jai; Ashish Jagmohan of the Society Committee where Jai lives whom he constantly ignores; Raju the street urchin who gives him shelter at the time of crisis; Avinash Shinde, the corrupt policeman with an eye on Lakshmi, Raju’s mother; the political bigwigs who use unemployed youths like Raju and Chetan from the streets to achieve their own ends, amongst others. As Jai pushes back his own troubles to involve himself more in other people’s lives, his personal journey to true liberation begins.

Sriram Subramanian is fantastic at drawing well fleshed out characters – both major and minor – as well as big and small conflicts that keep the reader captivated throughout. His eye for detail is also worth mentioning, for that is what provides the book its realism. A couple of loose threads do remain even at the end of the book – for instance, Jai’s take on his commitment to build Sarika the dream house, as well as her own thoughts and feelings on the matter; the significance of Sarika’s career and the purpose of her visit to Hamburg; the elusiveness of Saloni Singh and her importance in Jai’s life, etc. However, all these are minor distractions and do not really take away from the pleasure of reading an otherwise brilliant piece of work.


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