If you’ve ever played that game of plucking out petals from a flower while saying ‘She loves me’ and ‘She loves me not’, you’ll know what I mean when I say that the first few pages of this book made me say ‘I’ll read it’ and ‘I’ll read it not’… and yet, I read on. I’m glad I did it because what I thought was a mere school boy story suddenly turned into one that made me turn my own life inside-out. A novel that went on to put back the clock for me, to give me deep investigative interpretations on society, love, families, riots, journalism, and even friendships.
Now if you are going to read this review to know what the story is all about, let me just tell you that the story doesn’t matter… because it is your own story. Yes, every few pages I looked up and murmured, ‘Hey, I know this happens! I know this is true.’ Well, not just this, the way Abhisar Sharma, the author, goes on to tell the story of Abhimanyu Sharma, one sees the words on the pages flying off to turn into some sort of a truth serum.
I’ve heard a few reviewers talk about this book and say, ‘Well, we thought Abhisar will give us another thriller. Another Machete where terrorism will be hanged upside-down.’ Now that I have finished reading the book, I know that the number of goose-bumps have been the same, the pulse had raced just as fast, and I had loved the way the author had gone inside the mind of a child, a lover, and even a rioter. This book rests on a foundation of painstaking research into hurt psyches… and was stunned as I read:
‘the bitch is dead, the bitch is dead…’
Yes, the line took me back to the year and month and day when even I saw and understood that ‘smoke bellowed from houses that were inhabited by Sikhs.’ I remember vividly that I was standing in front of the ICU in Bara Hindurao Hospital on the top of the ridge and could see Malkaganj, Chandrawal, and other areas where the riots were in full swing, and like the protagonist in the novel, I too ‘realised how the mobs had changed the landscape in a matter of hours, burning cars, tyres and gut down shops lay down the road.’
No, I did not see ‘a sea of rioters, their hands raised, their mouths chanting slogans of “eternity to the martyred prime Minister”’ but I did see a young Sikh child run, trying to dodge a few miscreants wanting to smash his head with a massive flower pot. I watched in impotent silence as the child ran into the ICU and got temporary reprieve. I know this one Sikh child was saved, because we had his hair cut and had all his Sikh identities removed and hidden. So, as I read of what Jaspreet felt, I knew every word was true:
‘It wasn’t a smile; it wasn’t even pain. There were traces of grief and an appeal to save her husband’s life. He thought that she had smiled. He thought she did. And then she slumped over Harvinder.’
But the pages that take us into the heart of a Delhi that was inundated with riots, are not all about a graphic description of those hours… the novel explores how moments like these can change attitudes, friendships, and even lives. It was probably unreal expectations that added to the distance that appeared between two friends and even though Abhimanyu says that ‘…reports are based on the truth. And I did not have facts to support the claim. I spoke to many people, but none of them would come on record. Murmurs in a dark street don’t make the truth, Jagtar’ the cracks that had appeared, refused to go.
The book weaves in the hell of the riots to bring out the unexpectedness that relationships must thrive on. They were probably another reason gifted to Abhimanyu to go on…
‘…the most beautiful ride of his life.’
Yes, the book explores the realism of a country torn apart by mindless tussles and conflicts and at the same time probes the layers of love as gently as it can. A taste of the sublimity of love that began one evening as abhimanyu’s neighbour ‘moved a step closer, her hand stretched out, ‘Congratulations, India won the world cup.’ Just as he took her hand in his, a cracker exploded right behind them with a roar. And as a reflex, Jaspreet let out a muffled shriek and buried her face in Abhimanyu’s chest. His senses numb, everything around him went quiet. In those strange few seconds, she wanted to prolong every frame between them too. A numbing sense of comfort engulfed her.’ Well, cupid had struck! And ‘it was a matter of a few minutes that Abhimanyu realised he was smitten by her. The proof: he had never spoken to anyone like that. No one had interested him as she did. He wanted to see her talk continuously, he loved her chatter.’ Even all this talk of love doesn’t appear sketchy and superficial… I mean, if an author is focused on a novel that delves deep into the social matrix, one wouldn’t expect him to treat love properly. But Abhisar does.
The book has some rather poignant moments when love takes the front seat and as a reader one just hums along.
The book, however, explores relationships in all their forms and even friends parting get a lot of attention. We are told that Abhimanyu and Jagtar ‘discovered gradually that they neither had anything to talk about now, nor any time to be spent together. It was tragic to see the erosion of the innocence that bonded them as friends… Abhimanyu stopped visiting Jagtar’s house as he could feel a sense of hostility from his father who was becoming radicalized to the core.’
The most charming thing in any novel happens only if an author is able to go beyond the sublimity of love and the realism of the society… and is able to analyse and interpret minds. Especially if we are talking of the minds of those in power because…
‘There is no better aphrodisiac than power.’
The book definitely enters the minds of the powerful… so whether it is a politician who is poised to enter the big league or a journalist who is out to prove his point, the book has a lot to say. The author takes us into the paradoxical world of an investigative journalist and the brash universe of a politician drunk on the excesses of power. We, therefore, hear the politician brag openly and uninhibitedly of his secrets when he admits: ‘You know, in politics, we have conduits. They ease our way to the corridors of power.’ We empathise and nod knowingly when this very power-drunk politician also admits to his role in the riots but is dismissive about it all because ‘I was young. I was raw. And I was angry. If you ask me, would I do it again if given a chance? No, I would not! But ask me if I am remorseful of what I did. I am not.’
Let me give out a little secret here… you must be wondering what happens when a politician is in an expansive mood to reveal all. Well, ‘it was Abhimanyu’s turf. It was his treat. That was the best way to disarm him. The prey was marked. The master of conspiracies was on an overdrive.’
The melting pot of emotions
The story comes with its own spicy mix of twists and turns and besides telling us ‘what happens when power is coupled with anger’, the novel also informs us dutifully that, like Abhimanyu, all we can earn ‘through revenge is more turmoil in my life’. So yes, a story that began with rebellion in the mind of a school kid that makes him throw away his seat in IIT simply to get even with his father, develops into one that extols having ‘lived life on your own terms’ and this is what made me fall in love with the protagonist.
Yes, the cover is impressive, the font chosen and the size of the font is conducive to reading… and most important, the price is just right.
Details of the book:
Title: A hundred lives for you
Author: Abhisar Sharma
Publisher: Shrishti Publishers
Price: Rs 195/- (in 2014)
On Flipkart: Buy A Hundred Lives for You
On Amazon: A Hundred Lives for You
Written on 30 December 2014
Published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 29 December 2014: