‘Chapter Eleven’, the corporate tale that wasn’t (IANS Book Review)

November 4th, 2011 - 11:18 am ICT by IANS  

Facebook Book: “Chapter Eleven”; Author: Amit Shankar; Publisher: Vista; Price: Rs.495; Pages: 361

Chapter 11, which in legal terms means filing for bankruptcy, is the central theme of this supposed peek-a-boo into the corporate world. The title is apt and justified as it won’t even take you 11 chapters to figure out that the book is a result of clear bankruptcy of ideas.

For starters, it could have done with some sharp editing and generous chopping of the tech lingo, which though simplified still manages to sound like gibberish.

The plot is a done-to-death Bollywood cliche. Virendra Vikram Singh or VVS is your typical small town boy dreaming of making it big one day. The dreams of VVS, a Rajput from Udaipur with exceptional intellect, come true when he lands a job with a Fortune 500 company in Gurgaon with the help of a sleazy college senior who’s now a strings-pulling “fixer” office senior.

The Blackberrys, laptops, corporate suits and king-size breakfasts make for a glamorous entry but soon lose sheen when the company files for Chapter 11.

Heads roll, VVS does a ‘what-am-I-doing-here’ act but the “fixer” senior comes to his rescue, time and again.

Meanwhile, our protagonist naively manages to get into a soup by doing a hacking job for a blue-blooded Rajput from his hometown, finds a place to stay with two women - one of them beautiful with a bell-like voice - and discovers the virtues of Facebooking and coffee guzzling to kill office time.

In between, we’re also subjected to ill-timed flashbacks where VVS is still a student in Delhi University. We’re told, more than once, that he was IIM (Indian Institute of Management) material but the “god-like” influence of the sleazy senior changes the course of his life and puts him on the path of Navy Cuts and Old Monks.

Back to the present, VVS expectedly falls for the girl with the bell-like voice despite a sarcastic wife back home who keeps calling to check if he’s been asking “how was it” there too — a reference to a question he used to ask her after their passionate act.

In office, he’s been christened “thakur” and is just beginning to make an impression on seniors with acronyms like his when tragedy 1 strikes. A marketing campaign is leaked and all fingers point towards him. Under the impression that he’s innocent, VVS gets the shock of his life when he finds out that he’s been stabbed in the back by the bell-like voice. Tragedy number 2.

Losing all sense of faith and sanity, VVS bursts out with an impromptu, supposedly-brave speech in the office whose customary purpose is to make the protagonist appear like a coming-of-age hero. Unfortunately, it is neither heroic nor does it move, it’s just a never-ending rant.

Contemporary in its voice and setting, what drowns “Chapter Eleven” is the oft-trodden path it takes.

What could have been an insightful, vivid journey of the corporate industry is reduced to an underwhelming and unintelligent drama with one-dimensional characters, uninspiring writing and a storyline that can be predicted just by turning the book over and going through the blurb.

(Mohita nagpal can be contacted at mohita.n@ians.in)

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