One would expect Karan Bajaj to have done a lot of homework before starting his book. After all, Bajaj is a management consultant with a very reputable firm in the US. Consulting firms are well known, and widely lampooned, for developing impersonal, step-by-step solutions to any and all problems that their clients face.
So, Bajaj’s debut book—the story of an American-born, astronomically-confused desi who moves to India for an MBA (master of business administration) at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B), and a little meaning in life—can be expected to be a measured effort. One that is put together with the precision and purpose of one of those slide presentations he no doubt crafts day in and day out.
But would that approach work when it comes to writing a book about growing up and coming to terms with life?
Roller: Ratan’s a pot smoker
As I read the book, an image kept flashing in my mind. Bajaj typing away at his laptop while, next to him, was a checklist of things he had to include in the book: substance abuse, East-West conflict, academic rivalries, the meaning of life.
I have no idea if that is how Bajaj actually wrote this book. What I do know is that the book sacrifices style for detail, and is none the better for it. He is a pretty good writer. There are passages in the book where his wit and eye for irony come through with crystal clarity and bite. But every time his narrative picks up steam and assumes some stylistic form, he throws one of his assorted clichés into the plot.
Keep off the Grass begins with the protagonist, Samrat Ratan, in a prison cell, sharing a joint with a friend and in tears at his predicament. The book then goes back in time and charts out a series of decisions that leads to Ratan’s incarceration. There is nothing remarkable about the plot. After some bizarre introspection, Manhattan banker Ratan decides that his life would make more sense if he came to his homeland, India. And an MBA at IIM-B appears to be the ideal reason for his sojourn.
Despite the overwrought writing and plodding pace, the story picks up speed once Ratan arrives on campus and begins to settle into his new environment.
The problem with all of Bajaj’s characters, however, is that they all think too much. At the merest drop of a hat, they go off on dense, verbose discussions that quickly get exhausting. Which is saying something for a book that is just 250 pages long. Ultimately, you want to keep reading the book, just because Ratan has gone through so much agony that you hope things work out well for him.
Bajaj is a good writer who could have used some solid editing. Hopefully, publishers will look beyond his debut effort and give him a second chance.
Oh, and Ratan does all right. With a little help from a surprising cameo appearance right at the end of the book.