Love, Peace and Happiness: What more can you want? by Rituraj Verma
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The title, firstly, is ordinary yet thought provoking at the same time. Depending on how much you are ready to dwell on each character, each story, you will either find this book pretty ordinary or rather thought provoking. More on this later.
It's a collection of short stories, all dealing with urban Indian middle class characters caught in a web of difficult choices having something to do with love, money, fame, value systems, morality, death etc. with a generous sprinkling of circumstances beyond control in each one. Now obviously, I'm not going to review each story separately but that's not because I'm lazy(though my parents may disagree) rather because the takeaway for me from this book is no single character, but a very general impression- you never know how a single decision could bring your world crashing down.
Scary? Yeah, some of the stories will jolt you out of your smug I-know-what-my-future-is-going-to-be-like illusion but there are quite a few others that will put a smile on your face and leave you beaming.
The 'About the Author' section and the foreword, the latter by the author's wife Smriti Verma, lend a humane beginning to the book and the 9 stories that follow are interconnected in a very interesting manner. Some characters make fleeting appearances in many stories. The first time it happened, I didn't get it. Rather the foolish reaction was- not the same name again! But as it unfolded, sinking gradually into my mind, I was impressed with the ingenuity. Why I say ingenuity is because I had never come across any such thing in literature though it is an age old formula in daily soaps. I daresay, I would have given this book 2 stars had it not been for the last story. That one does a brilliant job of amalgamating most of the important characters into a single tale and leaves the reader with the feeling that his destiny is invariably connected to many others' whom he may not even know.
A number of typo errors just killed it for me a number of times. I hope the next reprint takes care of it as for some readers like me, one grammatical error can just dampen the mood. The language is very simple and straightforward, perhaps keeping in mind the target population. That too killed it for me. Used that I am to depth literature, there's only a point up to which I can admire stories with not-so-great prose. That's one reason I rarely pick up Indian writers. This one, by the way, was sent by the author himself, in case you were wondering how I came to be under the illusion that this one figures as 'depth literature'.
This book has many things going for it, one of which is that "it's different".
Now what makes it different is also it's USP- alternate endings for each story. If you don't like how a story ends, you can check several alternate endings on the author's website. The links are provided at the end of each story. Even better is the far-sighted idea of letting the readers craft their own endings if they are not satisfied with those there on the website- http://www.riturajverma.com
Unfortunately, for me, this didn't turn out to be what it could have been.
I read either when I'm tired of the things around me or when I have nothing better to do(observing people in the metro doesn't appeal to yours truly). To ask me to go online and check out alternate endings is asking too much.
There were stories that were going great and then the ending was a real disappointment- perhaps a way of getting readers to explore the several other endings on the website. Such stories just ruined it for me.
As it is, I don't have a taste for short stories yet. I relish my erudite tomes.
I suffer from post-partum depression very easily and quickly; so ideally, a book should not end for me till I feel justice has been done to the build up and to all the characters (or till it has tired me, on second thought). That's one reason I relish heavy books and to the disbelief of my friends I have no trouble finishing unabridged versions of a 'Gone with the Wind' or a 'Les Miserables'in a week.
So low key endings are just not my thing. Alternate endings on the web are not my thing. Changing the ending myself, again is not my thing (my parents may be able to tell you why).
In short, I'm just the wrong person to have read this book because some of my reading habits and a few peculiarities of my taste make it impossible for me to be able to appreciate all the brilliance that it posseses. The average Indian college goer should find the stories extremely readable and the characters somewhat memorable. What didn't work with me shouldn't necessarily 'not' work with others.
One thing though that I must concede is that the stories are thoroughly thought provoking. To me, at least they were. There's this flavour of understatement which disguises the message of the story in such a way that you leave with a feeling of the stomach being empty still, if you haven't let the characters bite into your skin. Yes, you need to give them some time, in your head. If you don't, you may just miss the whole essence that the writer has been trying to convey.
But I figure that doesn't come naturally to most since a number of what could be better endings wait to be explored on the web.
For a reader like me, the USP of this book may actually turn into it's Achilles's heel.
Whoever said the world around is predictable?
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