You’ve already read the many IIT books. Now, Ravi Subramanian’s If God was a Banker is India’s first IIM book. Although it is not set in an IIM campus, the two main characters are just out of the hallowed institution and much of what happens in the novel could mirror the career path of many IIM graduates.
That’s the good part.
If you’re a believer in the book-is-only-as-good-as-its-first-paragraph theory, then you know where this one’s going when you start reading. If God was a Banker begins when “New York City was dark and cold” and “the sun was yet to leave its heavenly abode”.
Sundeep Srivastava, a rat race junkie working for the New York International Bank (NYB), wakes up in bed to confront the biggest dilemma in his life—peace of mind or ruthless ambition?
After two pages of hurried exposition, we’re in NYB’s Mumbai office, on the day Sundeep joins the bank as a management trainee along with Swaminathan, a conscientious, intelligent Tamil Brahmin college topper. Both become friends, then enemies, and eventually, friends. And there is Aditya Rao, their first boss, who remains their messiah till the end. By now, clichés are collapsing on clichés.
Subramanian, 37, is the head of retail banking in HSBC and is from the 1993 batch of IIM-Bangalore, and his intentions behind writing the book are clear from the beginning: to tell a story that he knows best, without any literary aspirations. And it helps that there are takers for this kind of writing today. After Chetan Bhagat’s two books on life at the IIT campus and Amitabha Bagchi’s Above Average in a similar IIT setting became best-sellers, this genre (perhaps it’s high time we called it a genre) also makes sound financial sense. But even without any expectations of literary gratification, Subramanian’s story reads like an insipid rough draft of a potboiler.
Sundeep and Swaminathan are tested professionally in the 1980s when the Indian banking sector makes its most important transition—from state ownership to private to retail banking. Sundeep is full of ideas and would do anything to see them executed, and so is the company’s blue-eyed boy. Swaminathan is quiet, cautious and honest. Sundeep secretly loves Kalpana, another colleague, who falls in love with Swaminathan and marries him. Sundeep marries Natasha, Kalpana’s best friend. After Aditya leaves the company, trouble begins. Sundeep and Swaminathan part ways and thereafter, the story whizzes through London, New York and Mumbai, with a few other predictable characters thrown in—a Gujarati wheeler-dealer, a sexually aggressive woman who is a corporate climber, etc. Every cliché of a banker and of a banker’s spoilt wife is here—Sundeep’s wife Natasha is never parted from her husband’s credit card.
Sundeep has an extramarital affair, all the while working his way to the top of NYB’s New York office. Eventually, it dawns: He must return to India, to the services of Aditya Rao. And, “he travels all over the globe but, irrespective of where he is, he calls Natasha every night to say ‘I love you’ before he hits the bed.”
Avoid if you’re cringing already.