Wednesday, November 9, 2005

One Night @ the Call Center

Chetan Bhagat’s new book One Night @ the Call Center is a highly readable. The author might not be a great (literary) writer but he is definitely a good story-teller. I finished the book in a single sitting through the day -- it's that kind of a book; you would like to race through it, even though you know what the plot is and how it's going to end. (I doubt if there's anyone who doesn't know the plot, especially if you are planning to read the book. There has been quite a lot of buzz about it in the MSM and elsewhere.)

The book also is not (and has no pretensions of being) "great literature." In fact Chetan Bhagat has his narrator make that absolutely clear:
My English is not that great--actually nothing about me is great. So, if you are looking for something posh and highbrow, then I'd suggest you read another book which has some big many-syllable words.
The book has hardly any "many-syllable words." Most of them appear when the writer is ridiculing management-speak of a stupid and evil boss (most of us have worked under at least one in our lives) who likes to use jargon like big picture, underlying variables, optimal solution, pertinent managerial affairs, value-addition, etc. And even these are marked out in bold so that they stand out from the page for the reader.

Bhagat also knows how to immediately hook and then establish a bond with his reader. ONTCC starts intriguingly enough (empty train compartment, one guy, a mysterious pretty girl who has a story to tell) but it is in small and familiar details that the author really gets the reader on his side. Many of the readers, especially those under 25 or around that age, will identify with and relate to much in the book. Bhagat is highly observant and many readers will find themselves smiling instinctively and nodding at many of "this happened to me too/I do this too" moments that Bhagat has peppered his book with. Right from the prologue which is set in an empty train compartment:
When I was younger, I used to look at the reservation chart stuck outside my train bogie to check out all the female passengers near my seat (F-17 to F-25 is what I'd look for most). Yet, it never happened. In most cases I shared my compartment with talkative aunties, snoring men and wailing infants.
To the girls' reaction to Priyanka's announcement of her marriage:
'Waaaoooow! Oh wow!' the girls screamed at their highest pitch possible. [. . .]

Radhika and Esha got up to hug Priyanka as if India had won the World Cup or something. People get married everyday. Did these girls really have to create a scene?
To this observation by Vroom:
'She says that I don't know what love is. I care for cars and bikes more than girls.'
I laughed. 'You do.'
'That is such an unfair comparison. It's like asking women what they care for more, nice shoes or men. There is no easy answer.'
'Really? So we are benchmarked to footwear?'
'Trust me, women can ignore men for sexy shoes [. . .]'
The last example as well as most of the book also highlights the author's gift for conversation, especially of the witty kind. In fact the plot advances much and you get an insight into the characters through their conversation. It's the easy conversations through out the book that make it such an entertainer.

Having said that, not all of the book is in the same vein. The book in fact slips a number of notches from the "God" section of the book. To me it felt too contrived and too full of tedious moralization. The book goes steadily downhill from that point. The entire section that follows about saving the call center by working on the fear of the "dumb Americans" and even the last sequence -- filmi motorbike chase of the car carrying the girl he loves by the hero and his faithful friend and the final proposal at a red signal -- is just too awkward. Bhagat's attempt in the end to provide an alternative story to the "God" sequence and the final twist that he adds in the epilogue is only an attempt to be "clever" and he is not too good at that -- he is unable to pull it off at least in this book.

But that shouldn't take away much from the novel. I suspect many would still want to read it. I wanted to, in spite of the much negative press and thrashing it received from many serious critics. Probably pricing it at just Rs. 95, as publishers Rupa have done, had much to do it. For the money, I knew it would be totally paisa vasool and that's how it turned out it be. Read ONTCC if you are not expecting, or wanting, any intellectual stimulation but are looking for a fast, easy, and entertaining read.

Here are two other "reviews" of this book that you should read: The new Chetan Bhagat, and thoughts on 'entertainment' and Head vs Heart vs Hair.

You can read an excerpt from One Night @ the Call Center here.

1 comment:

Neha said...

this book is a good inspiration for how to handle your problem.. over here shyam a guy who works in d call center his problems are shown and how he handles it but actually he doesn't handle it but gets messed up so here its a thing to learn how to handle situations like this and most importantly you should not loose your confidence at any state keep faith in yourself to know what i am saying do read the book.. its good..