JOKER IN THE PACK | Ritesh Sharma and Neeraj Pahlajani
This book is the latest in this new but well served genre. Ever since Chetan Bhagat’s eponymous debut novel Five Point Someone made the campus caper an instant hit in the books market, many Indian publishers—big and lesser known—have been vying to capture this space.
Joker in the Pack:Orient Paperbacks,195 pages, Rs195
Authors Ritesh Sharma and Neeraj Pahlajani, both Indian Institute of Management (IIM) graduates, position the book as “an irreverent view of life at IIMs”. It is intended to be a no-holds barred look at life in IIM Bangalore—one of the best management schools in the country. Far from it. The best parts of the book are when the authors place their protagonist outside campus.
Sharma and Pahlajani are graduates from the University of Delhi, and IIM Lucknow and IIM Bangalore respectively; and both work for American Express. Little wonder then that their protagonist, Shekhar Verma, follows much the same path.
The first half of the book has a smattering of witticisms and humorous situations, when Shekhar struggles to cope with life after graduating from Delhi University, gets disillusioned with academics and finally re-emerges as a star when he gets admission into IIM Bangalore.
This reviewer is a graduate from IIM Bangalore, and not a Delhiite, but the early chapters conjure up vivid images of the city, and it isn’t difficult to imagine what it must have been like to grow up there. A young Shekhar grows up with the same sense of confused priorities that many young people do. His naivety is likeable and convincing.
By now, of course, we know that he will make it to an IIM. And this is how he does it: “…I was slaughtered like a lamb by the three interviewers. I was asked questions like the breadth of a railway track (narrow gauge and broad gauge) and full forms of obscure abbreviations (at least I had never heard of DMPOT, no matter how shocked they seemed at my ignorance) while one of the professors kept blatantly ridiculing me as a worthless piece of trash irrespective of what I said.”
As the story moves to the IIM campus, it begins to plod. We meet dull, stereotypical characters; even Shekhar comes across as a bumbling idiot trying hard to come to terms with life in the first year of his MBA. His love life falls apart and he has to settle for a summer internship at the lowly Britannia Industries.
The authors seem to have had a checklist of things to write about life at the IIM, and laboured their way down the list ticking off each of those items, without infusing any atmosphere or edge to the narrative.
When Shekhar steps into the dusty and gritty roads of interior Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, gathering data about biscuit consumers, the book is temporarily redeemed. The anecdotes are interesting and the story picks up pace: “I reached Hotel Kamal and asked for a single room. The receptionist, a middle-aged man, gleefully informed me that there was only one room available and I was fortunate enough to get it. I felt like whacking him across the face. I was wet, cold and frustrated and here he was telling me that I was lucky to be spending a night in a Hotel Kamal in Moradabad.”
But once he’s back on campus, the authors rush into the suspense and flurry of final placements (campus recruitment eats up more than half the book in terms of pages and plot), and throw aside all semblance of character development. While the idea must have been to make the reader want to know where Shekhar would end up after campus life, the ending is executed shabbily and indifferently. Pity, because Joker in the Pack is better than most in this growing genre. If only it had portrayed a convincingly irreverent view of life at IIMs.
Sidin Sunny Vadukut is thedeputy editor of JAM magazine.
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