Thursday, July 12, 2007

'Above Average': book review

My long promised review...

It is unfair to review a book by constantly comparing it to another one. But it simply can't be helped. Chetan Bhagat's 'Five Point Someone' (FPS) was such a definitive moment in Indian 'youth lit' that any book which is also about 'coming of age' and set on an IIT campus will only be referred to as 'Is it better than FPS?'

The answer is yes, and no. Amitabh Bagchi's 'Above Average' is a 'better book' but it is less readable. Bagchi is a superior writer, but Chetan is a great storyteller.

FPS is written like a screenplay, with the plot revolving around a few prominent characters. Above Average is more like life. Where you have 'building' friends, 'college' friends, 'wing' friends, 'department' friends. But in a book, that can get rather confusing.

The other key difference is that Five Point Someone was a book which focussed on the underdog whereas Above Average, as the title suggests, is about a guy who is superior to the aam junta. The underdog invariably captures the popular imagination - perhaps because there are so many who identify with that state of being.

Whereas 'above average' is almost like saying 'genius' but with a pinch of modesty.

Having said all this I would add: I liked the book. Or at least many portions of it. From the very first page, the words pitter patter, thoughts flow and dialogue is easy and natural. The first chapter captures the tension that the average IIT aspirant goes through. Right from the fact that few even know why they're taking the exam.

"I must have decided at some point in my time at school that I should try to get into one of the IITs. But when I made that decision, if I ever made it consciously, I could never remember."

Then there is the description of the fellow JEE toppers invited by Agrawal classes for an all expenses trip cum felicitation to Bombay (the book is set in the 'pre-Bansal classes' era). "Such shadys," is the verdict of our protagonist.

"We would measure ourselves against each other for years after we graduated, just like we would measure our grades against each others' in the four years we spent together. (how true!) But at that time I had no inkling that this bunch of shadys were my future."

The cover picture - a wide eyed, innocent looking boy with a measured indifference is very apt. Because this, is the underlying tone of the book.

"The battle for grades and academic achievement was just one small part of the larger war, the others being the battles to appear unconcerned, in control, well rounded, self confident. Accustomed all our lives to being lauded as exceptional, we were all scared that the true measure of ourselves, our unremarkable selves, would emerge one day."

Yup, IITians are as 'normal' as anyone else - but given the halo around their heads it would take another 20 books and movies for that idea to sink into the public consciousness.

But back to the book. Sadly, from page 25 the story slips timezones into the Mayur Vihar colony where the Chief Character grew up. As someone who's also grown up in a colony I'd say Bagchi describes the claustrophobia of that kind of life perfectly. But, perhaps that could have been the subject of a different book.

The rest of the book is devoted to Arindam (aka Rindu's) stay in IIT - and a little of what happens beyond. Forming a rock band is one of the high points. The fact that being a rocker is not just about love of music is captured beautifully by Bagchi:

From that first roll to the end of the song was the one time in my life when anything seemed possible, when everything I did seemed exactly right, totally in sync; the one time when I was not a bespectacled Bengali computer scientist sitting in a small room in Mayur Vihar, but Mitch Mitchell himself, the master of the drumset,the king of percussion..."

Then there are the small joys of IIT life like 'shagging contests'. The coolness of Hindi as lingua 'IIT' franca. And even a stab of regret at not being part of DU ('where your friends are growing their hair long and acquiring girlfriends').

The most interesting, sub plot revolves around a professor called Kanitkar. Every college has a professor who is revered and looked upto. Kanitkar was one such God. A prof who thunders: "You miserable dolts... you don't deserve to be in IIT.. you should all have gone to Roorkee. No, no.. you should get your computer science from NIIT!"

You see, Kanitkar's classes dealt not in ratta but funda. Which is what separates the men from the boys at an IIT.

"... Ideas mattered more than knowledge, of this we were fairly certain. There were classes in which learning by rote was the only challenge. Doing well in such a class was not a major achievement. In fact, there were people like Neeraj who made it a point to do badly in such classes.

But to do well in classes that required conceptual clarity, a funda class, was what marked you as smart and led people to say that you had clear fundas. And if you could do well in a funda class without having studied much, then you were in a league of your own. And no class was as much of a funda class as Algorithms taught by Kanitkar."


The friendship/ rivalry between Rindu (the 'above average') and Neeraj the 'genius') is the final moving force of the book. Neeraj, the guy from a government school who dreams are bigger than his Bata chappals... "There's no point in doing research incremental research. You can't get the Turing award by making small improvements to existing results."

But at the end of the day, Bagchi makes the point that 'success in life' is as much about talent as desire.

"We aren't what we do or what we achieve or what we acquire or about what we become, we are and we always will be what we want."

Amitabh Bagchi, a boy who grew up in Delhi, studied at IIT, did his Computer Science PhD and came back to teach at IIT D wanted to write a semi-autobiographical book. And he did.

It could have been more impactful, more memorable, if he hadn't meandered around so much.

In the final analysis, FPS, is junk food for the mind. Tasty at the time but quickly gulped down and forgotten. Above Average is a lovingly cooked meal, although some portions are too bland/ undercooked. Yet, provides some food for thought while chewing on it.

Rating:
Above average but not outta-this-world

More opinions and reviews here.

15 comments:

  1. Good review.
    By the way, the 'review link' at the end is broken, you have added multiple 'http's.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Exact and Precise Review!!!
    I'd felt exactly the same way you'd described the book. Preferably, Mr.Bagchi should have steered clear of Mayur Vihar and stuff.

    Sadly, comparisons with FPS are inevitable and this book has been labelled as "not-so-hip" by my friends and I would be surprised if anyone borrowed it from me when I get back to IIT.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Dear,
    Very good review..
    I will definetly gonna read it..
    Have to taste its flavour, as you made it so exotic..

    Take care

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice review. You penned exactly what was in my mind, after reading the book. I'd have liked the book better had the Mayur Vihar portion been shorter and had the focus on IIT and rock been stronger.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nice post Rashmi, however, please get the author's name right.

    It is 'Amitabha Bagchi' and not Amitabh Bagchi. I hope you are not suffering from the Big B syndrome.

    As Sherlock Holmes might have said, "Elementary my dear Watson."

    ReplyDelete
  7. Amitabha Bagchi is a professor himself at IIT Delhi Computer Science Department. The guy is definitely a genius and writes well too. I agree his book might not be extremely popular with the masses but for any IITian or anyone preparing for IIT, it is a must :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Interesting Review. The book as been queued in my 'Must Read' category.

    There has been another book on The-IIT-Life called 'Thank you Mam'. Its just another book that tries to achieve sales target not due to the content or the writing-style but due to the topic it covers - IIT. You can consider it clubbing it with the book on Call Centers by Neelesh.

    ReplyDelete
  9. mhmmm, nice review, i think i'm going to enjoy reading it...but will probably wait for the movie....

    have been carrying the namesake around for 3 weeks now - and i know its a good book / have seen the movie - but i still havent read a single page...

    samay ka sakht aabhav...

    ReplyDelete
  10. That was an insightful review..!! Looking forward to more such stuff!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi I really love this book for the kind of grip it had on me... Its a very different book. I also want to wish Amitabh Bagchi all the best as he is been nominated for the Indiaplaza GoldenQuill award. I have voted for him and i am sure he will will this award. Check http://www.indiaplaza.in/Goldenquillaward/

    ReplyDelete
  12. 明星代言 明星经纪公司
    制动单元 铝壳电阻
    modern abstract art sofa manufacturer
    净水器 开水器 净水机 净水 软水机 软水 直饮机 家用净水 家用净水器 家用净水机 中央净水 中央净水器 水家装 水家电 水卫士 混合机
    过滤机 DHL快递 俄罗斯签证 回转支承 Laser marking
    保险箱 法兰 法兰标准
    polycarbonate sheet 回流焊 波峰焊
    压球机 注册上海公司 儿童摄影
    牛皮癣 皮肤病 制氮机
    食堂售餐机 校园一卡通
    学校一卡通 ic卡售饭机
    食堂售饭机 深圳一卡通
    广东售饭机 机电设备安装
    北京发票 代开发票
    餐饮发票 住宿发票
    广告发票
    网络电话 免费网络电话
    假发 补发
    织发 植发
    压滤机 板框压滤机
    蒸馏水机 纯蒸气发生器
    上海搬家公司 上海搬场公司
    大众搬家 大众搬场
    张家界旅游 香港旅游
    深圳旅行社 打包机
    收缩机 对讲机 电源模块
    血管栓塞剂
    售饭机 水控机 水控器
    萎缩性胃炎 neoprene laptop bags
    SEO优化
    SEO优化 计量泵
    胃炎 胃病
    冷水机 冰水机
    工业冷水机
    北京特价机票 北京打折计票 北京国际机票
    北京机票预定 北京飞机票
    北京订机票 北京机票查询 饮料机械
    银杏 水培花卉 企业宣传片 空分设备
    化工泵 离心机
    电话交换机 程控交换机 集团电话 集装袋
    混合机 混合机
    混合机捏合机 捏合机
    捏合机导热油炉 导热油炉
    导热油炉 反应釜 反应釜
    反应釜 spherical roller bearing
    搬运车 搬运车 电动搬运车 油桶搬运车 堆高车 电动堆高车 半电动堆高车 堆垛车
    高空作业平台车 电动叉车 平衡重叉车 前移叉车 电瓶叉车
    韩国饰品批发 模块电源
    X架 超薄灯箱> 易拉宝 展柜制作
    代理服务器 游戏加速器 网络加速器
    网通加速器 电信加速器 电信网通转换器
    电信网通加速器 网通电信互转
    网通电信互通 网络游戏加速器
    美国VPN代理 美国独享VPN 美国独享IP
    pvc ceiling panel Spherical roller bearings
    SEO优化
    安全鞋 劳保鞋 防砸鞋 电绝缘鞋 上海安全鞋 上海劳保鞋 江苏劳保鞋
    服装软件 服装管理软件 进销存软件
    进销存管理软件 服装管理系统 服装进销存软件
    进销存系统 进销存管理系统 免费进销存软件
    吉林中医 东北特产
    打包机
    阳痿 阴茎短小 阴茎增大
    早泄 前列腺炎 阴茎增粗 阴茎延长
    国际机票 上海国际机票
    国际特价机票 国际打折机票
    砂磨机 砂磨机
    砂磨机 卧式砂磨机
    卧式砂磨机 卧式砂磨机
    三辊研磨机 三辊研磨机
    三辊研磨机 混合机 混合机
    混合机 锥形混合机 锥形混合机 锥形混合机 行星动力混合机 行星动力混合机 行星动力混合机 无重力混合机 无重力混合机 无重力混合机
    干粉砂浆设备 干粉砂浆设备
    干粉砂浆设备 捏合机 捏合机 捏合机 导热油炉 导热油炉 导热油炉 反应釜 反应釜 反应釜 搪玻璃反应釜 搪玻璃反应釜 搪玻璃反应釜
    乳化机 涂料设备 干混砂浆设备 无重力混合机 胶体磨 涂料成套设备 双螺旋混合机
    北京婚庆 北京婚庆公司
    400电话
    办证 呼吸机 制氧机
    亚都 亚都加湿器 亚都净化器
    亚都装修卫士
    饰品批发 小饰品批发 韩国饰品 韩国饰品批发 premature ejaculation penis enlargement
    安利产品 马来西亚留学
    网站优化 网站推广
    衬布
    代写论文
    代写论文
    论文代写 代写论文
    磁力泵
    离心泵
    化工泵
    隔膜泵
    螺杆泵
    潜水泵
    油泵
    耐腐蚀泵
    水泵
    拖链 防护罩 排屑机 塑料拖链 钢铝拖链
    化工离心泵
    计量加油泵
    自吸式离心泵
    管道油泵
    自吸式排污泵
    潜水排污泵
    自吸式磁力泵
    耐高温磁力泵
    不锈钢多级离心泵
    多级离心泵
    耐腐蚀自吸泵
    自吸化工泵
    玻璃钢液下泵
    液下式排污泵
    卧式离心清水泵
    氟塑料磁力泵
    磁力驱动循环泵
    耐腐蚀污水泵
    卧式化工离心泵
    玻璃钢耐酸泵
    防爆管道油泵
    不锈钢多级泵
    立式多级离心泵
    塑料磁力泵
    水泵厂
    手摇油泵
    上海水泵厂
    上海水泵
    离心泵厂家
    热水泵
    清水泵
    气动隔膜泵
    深圳装饰 深圳装饰公司 深圳装修公司
    特价机票 打折机票 国际机票
    机票
    新风换气机 换气机 立式新风换气机 风机箱 新风系统 能量回收机
    搅拌机 混合机 乳化机
    分散机
    毛刷 毛刷辊 工业毛刷 刷子 钢丝刷
    涂层测厚仪 硬度计
    兆欧表 激光测距仪
    测振仪 转速表
    温湿度计 风速仪
    超声波测厚仪
    粗糙度仪
    噪音计 红外测温仪
    万用表
    硬度计 万用表
    美容院 美容加盟
    澳洲留学 澳大利亚留学
    什么是法兰
    电烤箱
    酒店预定 北京酒店预定 北京酒店
    离心机
    nail equipment nail products nail product nail uv lamp nail uv lamp nail uv lamps uv nail lamp nail brush
    nail file nail tool nail tip nail gel curing uv lamps lights
    万用表 风速仪
    红外测温仪 噪音计
    苗木价格 苗木信息 标牌制作 深圳标牌 北京儿童摄影 防静电鞋 淘宝刷信誉
    威海凤凰湖 威海海景房 大庆密封件
    打标机 淘宝刷信誉 TESOL/TEFL国际英语教师证书 英语教师进修及培训 北京快递公司 北京国际快递

    ReplyDelete
  13. 导热油炉吴桥县导热油炉锅有限责任公司是全国最大的生产导热油炉生产基地之一,公司主要生产各种导热油炉锅,熔盐炉, 转盘轴承,管式加热炉,蒸汽发生器,一二类压力容器.徐州回转支承 公司提供转盘轴承 --slewing ring slewing bearing slewing bearings服务. automation-industrial-industrial automation-slewing bearingslewing bearings
    铁路
    轨道交通
    太阳能
    电源d

    ReplyDelete
  14. ^^ nice blog!! ^@^

    徵信, 徵信網, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 感情挽回, 婚姻挽回, 挽回婚姻, 挽回感情, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信, 捉姦, 徵信公司, 通姦, 通姦罪, 抓姦, 抓猴, 捉猴, 捉姦, 監聽, 調查跟蹤, 反跟蹤, 外遇問題, 徵信, 捉姦, 女人徵信, 女子徵信, 外遇問題, 女子徵信, 徵信社, 外遇, 徵信公司, 徵信網, 外遇蒐證, 抓姦, 抓猴, 捉猴, 調查跟蹤, 反跟蹤, 感情挽回, 挽回感情, 婚姻挽回, 挽回婚姻, 外遇沖開, 抓姦, 女子徵信, 外遇蒐證, 外遇, 通姦, 通姦罪, 贍養費, 徵信, 徵信社, 抓姦, 徵信, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信公司, 女人徵信, 外遇

    徵信, 徵信網, 徵信社, 徵信網, 外遇, 徵信, 徵信社, 抓姦, 徵信, 女人徵信, 徵信社, 女人徵信社, 外遇, 抓姦, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 女人徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信,

    徵信, 徵信社,徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 外遇, 抓姦, 離婚, 外遇,離婚,

    徵信, 外遇, 離婚, 徵信社, 徵信, 外遇, 抓姦, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 外遇, 徵信社, 徵信, 外遇, 抓姦, 徵信社, 征信, 征信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 征信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信, 外遇, 抓姦, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信,

    ReplyDelete

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth