Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: My Friend Sancho

My Friend Sancho is a fiction novel written by Amit Varma, the blogger celebrity of India Uncut fame. The novel is set in contemporary times, in the city of Mumbai. What I found unique about the novel is that it is contemporary both in temporal sense as well as cultural sense. In order to fully appreciate the novel, one must have kept abreast with the fads and culture of Indian blogosphere in the past three years. This may leave the average reader a bit confused in places the author delivers a punchline. But going by way the protagonist is a confused youth himself, many of the readers won't even notice what they missed. Foreign readers will sure have tough time understanding cultural references and the class-divide, if they haven't been exposed to before.

The writing style of the novel is much similar to populist novels like those written by Chetan Bhagat, but there are some major differences if one goes deep in comparing with the said author. While Chetan's novels are mostly PG-13 rated, My Friend Sancho is strictly R-rated. So hold yourself back if you were planning to gift it to someone like your mom or dad. Also the language and tone of this novel is markedly different owing to different personalities of the authors. Amit has a knack of delivering quick-witted punchlines, which Chetan avoids.

The story is written in first person, that of protagonist Abir Ganguly. The novel revolves around his experience as he goes about doing research for a sensational news story that involved the shooting of an innocent Muslim by the Mumbai Police, and his subsequent meetings with Muneeza, the daughter of the deceased. Muneeza's nickname was 'Sancho', which explains the title of the book. Note that it is 'Sancho' as in 'Sancho Panza' (san-cho) and not sun-cho as I had thought when I came to know that it was the nickname of a poor Indian girl.

Despite what the author claims in interviews, the protagonist of the novel (Abir Ganguly) is the author himself: a Bengali with an embarrassing nickname living in Mumbai, earning his bread via journalism and having a penchant for one-liners and imaginary dialogue. Not just in the setting of the novel, there are strong shades of Amit Varma in the opinions held by Abir Ganguly; be it on, his own blog India Uncut, or even the government. Those who have followed Amit Varma long enough would instantly recognize the half-a-dozen situations where the author puts his own long-held opinions in the mouth of Abir. I would have been compelled to call it an Amit Varma show, but can't because there aren't any cows mentioned in the novel. There are also contemporary cultural references that regulars to the Indian blogosphere will instantly recognize, the Arindam Choudhary reference for example. The novel, despite being set in Mumbai, only touches the aspects of the city that most Indians are aware of: the traffic, the class divide, the Juhu beach. This helps the author as none of the readers would get lost in the city that is Mumbai: the glamour and the cesspool.

I was underwhelmed by the role of the lizard in the novel, which the author claims as himself. Its role was very limited in the 'big picture' of the novel, and its views were too simplistic as compared to that expected from a cold-blooded reptile. Maybe I was expecting a stereotyped lizard which disappointed me, and feel that some stereotypes are just left untouched. The lizard does have negative shades, but it is more like a high-school bully rather than Manthara. It sure can make a strong case of comeback in future Abir Ganguly novels, if they come out, but the lizard would still need a lot of work on its personality.

Overall, I found the novel to be an enjoyable read. It was fun being able to read the minds of people without any censorship. If you have been a regular blogger, then it is a must read. At 217 pages in relatively large type, it would interest the casual readers also who can't keep their attention long enough to complete a book. I was able to complete it in a single sitting of four hours.

I wish Amit Varma all the best for his future novels.


Anonymous said...

in fact there is mention of cow in MFS. When abir visits thombre's house.

rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read My Friend Sancho by Amit Varma. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.