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Updated: April 30, 2011 19:12 IST

Who's the hero?

Tulsi Badrinath
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Show Me A Hero, Aditya Sudarshan, Rupa publications, Rs. 195
Show Me A Hero, Aditya Sudarshan, Rupa publications, Rs. 195

Convoluted sentences and an unconvincing climax mar the narrative.

In attempting “a tragedy and a murder mystery and a coming of age tale”, Aditya Sudarshan set himself an imposing challenge: to meet the requirements of all three genres in Show Me A Hero. However, since the story is narrated by 23-year-old Vaibhav, looking back at recent happenings in his life, it is primarily a coming-of-age novel.

Vaibhav studied engineering in Bangalore. One wonders why he has not put his academic degree to use when, in the context of his job with Wildlife Alert in Delhi, he says, “I'm not so sure of myself. I don't know what I want from life or even who I am.” The explanation, that he does not “want to do something conventional” like getting a “cushy” job in a company just to please his parents, comes too late in the novel and undermines his later decision to acquire an MBA.

Vaibhav agrees to help ex-classmate Prashant make a movie about cricketer Ali Khan. Ali Khan's career dived after he walked in a World cup semi-final against Australia. Wanting to portray the misunderstood sportsman in a way that would exonerate him, Prashant teams up with a bunch of amateur actors. Initially skeptical about their “home-video”, Ali Khan agrees to co-operate with them. No sooner have they begun than the project attracts all sorts of trouble, ending with one of the team dead. In an unconvincing climax, the murderer confesses to the crime.

Having Vaibhav recount his story gave Sudarshan a great opportunity to build narrative tension and foreshadow the murder, using hindsight to advantage. He squandered it with a mostly linear narrative that falls slack, especially in the key second chapter where many characters are introduced but remain indistinct. So when the murder does take place, the effect of “a tragedy” is lost because one does not care enough.

While great profundity of thought may or may not be displayed in a coming-of-age novel, the best of them draw one into participating in the subtle realignment of the protagonist's universe, recognising in it facets of one's own transition to adulthood. What changes within Vaibhav as a result of his experiences? Disappointingly, not very much. Looking around at his dismal living conditions in Patparganj, he says, “I'm not afraid now to say what I think of it. I have learnt not to stifle my opinions but to let them play out as they will…If today a young man came knocking at my door charged with the passion of his thoughts…I wouldn't blanch at his ambition…I'd cheer him on.”

Lofty tone

Sudarshan writes in a manner that aims towards literary fiction, but constructs sentences that are convoluted or too lofty in tone for the subject matter. Here and there, details that seem to mean something — “A billboard that looked like Switzerland” or “alert Keralite eyes”— do not convey much. An abundance of awkward phrases such as “small and objectively insignificant”, “a quick stab of guilt assailed”, “the full force of his charm to tide over his mistake”, detracts from the pleasure of reading.

The blurb on the cover reads “Lights, Camera, Cricket…and murder”. A risky move, for it draws one's attention to the fact that action is lacking. One is tempted to plead with Sudarshan — Show me a hero.

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