In which we ask: Why is this a book?

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THIS BOOK has buzzed all summer, like an apiary in pollen over-drive, when apiologists everywhere ponder honeybee depopulation syndrome. Artists fought to do this cover? It has a gecko with a pink speech bubble containing the title. Charming, if you like geckos or cartoon alphabets. Oh yes, the reptile makes a guest appearance in the tale.

My Friend Sancho is the sort of whatchamacallit the refusenik writes in school to general applause. It’s disappointing to learn an adult wrote this.

It has all the irritants of pubescence, the voice is juvenile, and the philosophy jejune. More sixteen than twenty-three, it is cynical, self-indulgent and venal – which could be interesting if only it were louche enough. It lacks the gamin grace that can nudge even the most hesitant coming-of-age tale over the brink. It dodders at the verge, and retracts each bland anarchy with a selfconscious ‘I’m not really like that’ prudery that makes the reading a bore.

Thus: “I am Abir Ganguly. I work for a tabloid in Bombay called The Afternoon Mail. I am 23. I eat meat. I am heterosexual. I don’t believe in God. I masturbate 11 times a day. I exaggerate frequently, as in the last sentence.”

With patience, it can be read practically painlessly, in an hour. It vanishes without a trace, leaving two worrying questions:

Why is this a book?

Why did the (definitely intelligent) author write this (definitely unintelligent) book?

My first question isn’t as cosmic as it sounds. After all, this book was once a tree.

The second is more intriguing. My Friend Sancho has a story that screams to be told, and Varma ignores it.

MY FRIEND SANCHO
Amit Varma
Hachette Books
224 pp; Rs 195

The title misleadingly suggests Cervantes. But Abir doesn’t tilt at windmills. He is, if such a being exists, an anti-Quixote. Dragons swarm him, only to be absorbed into his dull landscape, drifting between flat, mall, and occasionally, office. Early in the book, Abir witnesses a killing. Inspector Thombre asks him to be present while he springs the Chota Sion gang. Only — there’s no gang. Thombre shoots an innocent householder, Mohammad Iqbal, and “… one of the cops with him says, ‘Thank God he was Muslim.’ ”

Our hero files his report and forgets about it. Then fate, in the guise of his editor, drives the dead man’s daughter Muneeza (the eponymous Sancho) into his arms. The distressed damsel doesn’t know our hero was there when her father was shot. She moves in with Abir who yammers on patronizingly. They live happily with the elephant in the room, while Amit Varma takes the story nowhere.

The blue funk, subject of umpteen macho novels, is a dependable brand of literary Viagra. Libraries are replete with it. In Abir, alas, it never evolves enough character for My Friend Sancho to graduate from blog to book. Not Lad lit, this is just bad lit.

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