Is what I had to ask after I somehow finished reading it. The review explains why you shouldn't!
Once upon a Timezone
- Neelesh Misra (Harper Collins - Rs 195)
One page 1 the author proclaims: I am just a storyteller and a storyteller is an imperfect god. So don't blame me if things go wrong.
Well excuse me, then who should I blame? Because this book is all wrong. It has no story to tell in the first place!
If you thought 'One Night at the Call Centre' was a new low in 'People Like You and Me' fiction, here's a piece of news: Once Upon a Timezone is the Marianas Trench of bad writing. I have no idea how it's received a clutch of pretty favourable reviews.
First of all, the characters are completely uni-dimensional.
There is Neel Pandey, desperate to go to the US but thwarted by Yamaraj - the God of Visa Interviews.
Father Ravi Pandey is a clerk in the Prime Minister's Office. And oh, he is Prime Minister at home as well.
Narmada is the long suffering wife, mother, wannabe beautician. 'Living her unfulfilled dreams through her only son' type.
OK, so such characters do exist but the writing is so uninspired, so stilted. In polite terms, it's 'textbookiya' English. Sample this:
Neel was also a deep admirer of American values. Every little thing he sa, and every little thing he read about America made him compare it to his bustling country of a billion. It made him wonder why his nation, that had given the world a sixth of its people, was able to produce only a tiny fraction of its wealth; why the nation that had some of the world's best software professionals or doctors or engineers was competing for development indices with tiny faraway blobs on the map run by tin-pot armies and crackpot despots.
Phew! That's Neelesh Misra, the journalist speaking - not his fictional character. I mean Neel "I'm the man" Pandey would hardly be bothered about 'development indices'...
The other weird thing is the author using shuddh English for all the conversation between Neel and his very desi parents. Especially the mother. Again, it does not ring true.
I suspect Neeleshji thought he was writing for an 'international' audience. Call centre theme and all that.
Which brings me to the ludicrous plot of the book. Neel, after being rejected for a US visa, joins a call centre because it's the 'next best thing'. One fine day he assists a dumb chick in New York who's having trouble opening 'MS Word' and thunder! lightning!! ek nayee love story ki shuruaat.
Ms Angela Cruz is a college graduate who says, "What's an icon? The only icon I know is Abraham Lincoln. Can you please talk in non-geek?"
Yeah right. And she gives Mr Neil Patterson her name, age and email id because you know, those American chicks - the young and beautiful kind - are generally lonely loser types anyways.
The next chapter is titled 'Love Virtually'. And well.. you get the drift. When the premise is so convoluted you can imagine how it contorts itself into a climax. But I don't know how many readers will get that far.
Other characters in the circus include an Indian chick called Meenal whose parents think Neel is a great catch. Even when he's sitting at home jobless. The complication is that Meenal is a lesbian. As they say - when in doubt about where to take your plot - include a gay angle.
Then there's Mr Rocky Randhawa, 'Chief Liaison Officer, Money's Worth Immigration Services'. A visa fixer who fools innocent abroad jaanewaale with Photoshop pics of himself posing with the US Ambassador in his seedy office.
And so on and so forth, ho hum, ta dumb.
My most charitable observation is, this book is 5 years too late. In the first flush of the call centre craze, it might have found a few takers. Today, it's just completely out of sync. Even a loser like Neel would know what a call centre is. Par nahin, he actually calls a friend to ask!
Like I said at the very beginning, reading this book will make you appreciate 'One Night'. Its last few chapters were corny but at least Chetan Bhagat got the atmospherics right.
'Once upon a timezone' will, I hope, bring down the curtains on call centre inspired books. Books written only to cash in on a current 'hot trend'.
Writers, please look for ideas elsewhere. More importantly, concentrate on your characters and quality of writing. The rest will then fall in place!
This is the last in series on 'books which remind you of other books'. Previous installments:
Earning the Laundry Stripes