Down the Road is 28 vignettes of campus life, covering the Amazing Technicolor Life that school and college are invariably made out to be. You’ll find the heartaches, the high school cliques and bullies, the fresher fear, the senior snobs, the hopeless crushes on teachers, the larger-than-life fights, the puzzling, sometimes gratifying run-ins, and the ambivalent reunions in the book. Everybody’s been there. Everybody’s done that. Or will.
Down the Road book cover.
The best thing that can be said about the book is that it has looked into every nook and corner of the campus experience, been down the road and stopped at every possible station to bellow true love at every passing girl, compare notes on how many teachers they made cry and/or quit, and reminisce for the umpteenth time about why everyone and everything turned out the way it eventually did.
The prose in this collection is unimpressive as a whole, and the dialogue seems to suggest a sizeable dip in I.Q. during this phase of our lives. The themes are well researched and the book is fairly representative of college/school life. But the ideas are ineffectually handled, the ends sloppily tied up with tardy one-liners. The heightened sensitivity may have been accurately captured, but it is inarticulately expressed. It definitely has more the quality of a glossy gossip magazine than literature.
That’s It? (Sahil Khan) and Welcome to St. Gibb’s (Ahmed Faiyaz) are two of the better pieces in this anthology. Both employ humour and explore themes other than love; the latter preoccupation tends to overwhelm the text and work to its disadvantage. Fresher (Sneh Thakur) takes a critical, but admittedly not preachy, look at ragging. Strangers in Strange Places (Abhijit Bhanduri) is an oddly interesting piece in its idea that dislocating from the stratified arena of a classroom to a different time and place can create situations that would be originally improbable. Bellow Yellow (Chinmayi Bali) handles human oddity and alienation with prose that is remarkably restrained.
The better known names that are a part of this venture such as Ira Trivedi and Paritosh Uttam are by and large disappointments. While the former dabbles in her signature sappiness to draw unconvincing portraits of lovesick, repentant adolescents, the latter picks up difficult characters and fails to develop them sufficiently in the story. Both result in superficial travels in the human experience.
Sonia Safri’s essay Fiction on Campus ends with: ‘As long as the story is not drab, boring and colourless and exudes freshness and humour, of course, campus fiction will not lose lustre soon’. But this book hasn’t managed any of those things. The themes are inclusive but stale, the prose is accessible but uninspired, and the characters are simply but superficially sketched. Read the book if you happen to be a fan of one of the author’s styles or if you want a light read. Otherwise, these stories have been written before, and better.[Grey Oak Publishers; ISBN 9788192040301]