“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.)
The damage that Chetan Bhagat has done to the Indian literary canvas is not only irrevocable, but epidemic as well. It has engendered a whole new crop of techie-turned-writers who harbour aspirations of being in the same league as him. Rahul Kumar Pandey’s debut novel is an unwelcome addition to this this burgeoning genre.
Sky, God and a Clown is Pandey’s own story. It is the clichéd tale of a small-town boy from a middle-class family who makes it to one of the premier engineering institutes of India. The book, like others of its ilk, exudes a terrible lack of imagination, glorifies the ordinary and perpetually harps on the struggle of the mediocre against mediocrity. The author’s blithely penned ‘middle-class’ take on things can get tedious at times. The characters in the book are mostly archetypical − a stoic father, a virtuous mother, a studious sister and a benign brother − and behave unwaveringly with mechanical idealism throughout the story. The book treads the predictable course of the boy’s success, the loss of a parent, corporate life and then his ultimate salvation−leaving the job and embarking on a writing career.
The ultimate tests for a piece of literature are universality of appeal, timelessness and objectivity. Good literature belittles borders, pooh-poohs barriers and becomes all the more relevant and potent with time. Though the book doesn’t lack objectivity, it does poorly against the tests of universality and timelessness. Not a huge audience that transcends borders will be able to relate to it. And the one that does won’t be able to do so for a very long time.
Spinning a good tale does not always have to be about putting together inspiring stories, fantastical events or intense melodrama. It can, as the author claims, be about the ‘small things’, the simple, the ordinary. A good writer can transform the ordinary into something extraordinary, making a chronicle of seemingly mundane events rise above their own triviality and become a story of worth and universality.
Unfortunately Pandey’s attempt at making a grand entrance on the Indian literary scene fails miserably and he all but disappears beneath the weight of his platitudinous prose and unoriginal expression. Sky, God and a Clown remains as disconnected as its titular entities who repeatedly attempt to touch, but never seem to truly come together in the novel to create a complete and genuine experience of storytelling.