Monday, September 05, 2005

Sumita Ambasta's Review of the Book

Book Review: Mediocre But Arrogant
by Sumita Ambasta
Monday, September 05, 2005

Before anything, a necessary admission must be made. I started reading the book with the attitude that I read the handouts and literature in XLRI, the business school both the writer Abhijit Bhaduri and I got our dubious distinction of being “Mediocre But Arrogant” in. This attitude, in one word, is flippant. Therefore, my surprise at the journey Abbey, the protagonist, embarks on in the book, deftly and sensitively portrayed by Bhaduri’s skillful narration, has the power to jolt the most cynical ones among us into at least one moment of thought. Each of those possible thoughts though, hide behind funny encounters, and matter of fact incidents that have never given us pause before. In that, Abhijit has succeeded in examining what exactly is the role of higher education in a society that values material success of exterior kinds, involving degrees, wealth, corporate positions, and fame. And he does it while making one laugh and cry, in a world that is funny, erotic, irreverent and colorful in ways we have never viewed it. Yet, these lovely memories haunt all of us, who have been through any kind of education.The labyrinths of succeeding in corporate world is a topic done to death before, but here one will find insights, specially in the form of a character called Rascal Rusty that gives new face to what it means to be Darwinistically ambitious. He has the capability of finding resonance and empathy with our dark sides which desire to be successful, not knowing how to reconcile it with the “nice” image we also aspire to at the same time. Abhijit has created an amazingly real character with public and private sides that exist but not acknowledged before. The part which might create controversy in India is Abbey’s sexual adventures. The younger generation will identify with how real the dynamics of his multiple loves and numerous women portrayed in the book is. I do see however, the parents (and teachers) uncomfortably squirming at the prospect of amorous sides of students being discussed as openly as it has been here. From some reports, I believe this discomfort at “good students at good educational institutions do not indulge in these escapades” has already been expressed in the media by one of the directors of a prominent management institute after reading the book. This educator may be clearly uncomfortable with the sensitive and erotic side of a normal young student, but no-one will dispute that this has to be the most real account of student life one has read in contemporary times. Even if some of it leaves a questionable taste in one’s mouth, as reality does too. This exploration is wonderful and younger readers might find things there that may be of myriad values. The book has illustrations that give it a distinct flavor and create images that Abhijit intends to share. Its acronyms, a part of student life, may sometimes get a little difficult for non XLers to follow, even though each and everyone has been painstakingly explained. A ready reference would have helped. It does create a real environment of school life though even in this. For readers who might complain about this, it might serve a good reminder that any kind of literature is set in a time and place and cannot be completely understood without understanding the details of that temporal reality. It does not affect one’s ability to enjoy the book though. The story and its conclusion, or lack thereof, is not important. We all have heard it before, even lived it in our experiences or in another’s. It is the process, the journey that Abhijit narrates with a flair of a wonderful travel writer in images and descriptions that transport us elsewhere through words, is what stands out. The only difference is, the journey is not in any geographical place, but Abbey’s mind and his being. Anyone interested in such journeys will relish the nakedness of thought and feeling in this book, even while squirming uncomfortably at seeing how it is laid out for all to know and read. It is intimate, vulnerable and yet not unnecessarily emotional, something that is a difficult balance to create. It is deliciously funny and irreverent at the same time, an astonishing feat.The larger setting that stood out was how the threads of exploration in this book relate to greater realities of outsourcing, globalization and transformation of identities. Not that the book deals with any of this directly. It might, if Abhijit writes a sequel, which I sincerely hope he does. A non- Indian reader, for instance, may be struck by what goes into the people who are challenging established meritocracies globally through outsourcing and global movement of talent. Is the professional who emerges out of a country like India merely struggling to survive, or is there greater questioning of education, identity, self and all these concepts in this process? Does this process have any implication on how things will be shaped in future? Many XL students, like their counterparts from other similar institutions in India have gone through Abbey’s journey. This may create an impact on where they end up in life, something Abhijit has left undefined, in this book. Well, the imagination is endless and its only when reading the book, will these possibilities emerge.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Abhijit,
first things first. let me congratulate you a fantastic piece of writing.the book has been written in a colloquial manner
so the flavour lasts longer.i have developed a kind of fetish for such
books like yours as well 2 more books written by IIT students.they really transport us back to our college and university days and hence replication of many a
situations.the eccentricities of fellow colleagues or the students really do give a lot of insights about the human behaviour.the medium you have chosen is indeed very powerful and it really
leaves an imprint on the mind.
being a management graduate myself,it did not take me long to get in to the groove.believe me, the time spent while studies is the best time period of the life and thereafter associations are made based on the priorities.

Thanks and regards,

Gopal Aggarwal