If you think IITs and IIMs are the only settings for alumni fiction, here’s a new one. Arjun Rao’s debut novel, Third Best, which will be hitting stores soon, is set in a boarding school.
Third Best is the story of Nirvan Shrivastav and his friends within the precincts of the prestigious, co-ed Shore Mount boarding school—where the rich and connected from all over India, and outside, send their children to study. But competing on the playing fields, or for the romantic attentions of a classmate, or in class, can become a violent and ugly affair, and not tattling on your classmates—no matter what they might have done—the one unbreakable code of honour. So, when Nirvan is called upon to denounce the particularly nasty doings of his classmate, he is unsure what to do.
Arjun Rao studied in The Lawrence School in Lovedale and now teaches history in The Doon School, Dehradun. It is then perhaps inevitable that his book is set in a boarding school. “It is the story of three young boys who join a boarding school and what happens to them over the next five or six years. They are completely different from each other and they are drawn together in a way only boarding schools can manage,” says Rao.
Arjun Rao’s book, Third Best, is published by Hachette India
While the book has been tempered by Rao’s experience with boarding schools, he says he has consciously avoided writing about events he has witnessed.
“I had a story in my head for a long time. In fact, I came up with the title of the book three years ago. During this time, whenever I got a wave of inspiration, I would write a couple of pages here and there,” he says. In 2008, he decided to put it together and because the story had been brewing in his head for such a long time, it came together quite easily. What wasn’t easy, however, was cutting it down from its original length of 700 pages to a more “manageable size”.
The story is targeted at young adults, as well as older readers. Anyone who has been in a boarding school will easily relate to the book, he says.
Rao is now working on a sequel.