Book Review: The Virgins
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Somethings are change makers, like some people. They can be movies, conversations, books…anything. Even fiction. Yes the make belief can challenge beliefs. This book did it for me. Call me ignorant but being the avid shiva believer Varanasi has, in my mind, remained a city of temples, tourists and tantricks. The Virgins made the city real for me. It put forth on the 318 odd pages a city like any other Indian city, with real people and relatable problems. Siddharth Tripathi in his debut as a novelist presents rare maturity in Indian English writing and a cast that is as entertaining as it is enticing.
Set in the holy city of Varanasi, The Virgins is at its core a story of three friends and struggles that only teenagers can fret over. Added to this is the earthy flavour that only comes when we talk small town India. Minus the conventional attachment of Hinduism and rituals so intrinsic to the general picturisation of the city of Varanasi. And added are characters that are raw and real to be faulty and finely crafted both at the same time. In the cauldron of fiction, these ingredients add up to narrate an interesting tale of coming of age of the protagonists, committing mistakes, choosing the rights after the wrongs, choosing friendship over priorities or choosing priorities over friendship: falling, crawling, struggling, learning and re-learning.
Among many interesting sub-characters we have the three protagonists – Pinku – the 19 year old school drop out, who dreams of opening the largest music shop in the locality and marrying the plump girl who caught him stealing flowerpots. The only minor glitch in his dreams are his 6 unmarried sisters, a foolishly in-love mother and a perennially drunk father. Bhandu – 17 year old class 12th student and Pinku’s close confidate has his own world of problems. His parents are divorcing, in a family of professors he seems to be headed towards failure (especially painful is failing in history – a subject his mother teaches) and the American tourist for whom he spends his evenings by the ghats watching the aarti doesn’t even know of his existence least of all his feelings. Guggi – a rich spoilt brat who will do anything for a thrill and is the only solance in Pinku and Bhandu’s life, though not always a welcome one. His shenanigans more often than they may want to admit land the threesome in adventures weirder than the one before. As the decisive days of their lives approach – 12th standard exams – Guggi desperate to leave a mark takes over the school’s notorious protection racket, situations force Pinku to exchange his priorities and Bhandu is confused as to what he thinks he wants is really what he wants.
The Virgins is an easy read with dashes of rustic lingo, situations that are peculiarly small town India and as exotic characters that can only be imagined in India. Truly what I would call a tale with damdaar desi tadka. The narration is free flowing and language easy on the mind. Kudos to Fingerprint! Publishing for maintaining quality levels in editing and language inspite of being a new publishing house (readers of recent Indian literature in English will know that new publishing house and quality language do not quite go hand in hand.) Siddharth has a descriptive tinge to his writing which makes the reader time travel to those streets in Varanasi. Another remarkable feature in the writing are the one or two liners each chapter starts with. Those are the uncanny insights into the characters and those add to making the names and the holy city come alive and breathing on the pages of The Virgins.
A remarkable debut & one of the must not miss books this year. Recommended.
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