Book: 'The Nothing Man'
Author: Ajay Khullar
Baru is a bastard, the book cover tells you. The reason why it's told is that you don't feel deceived when you find that out yourself. But you still feel deceived.
In the course of the book, you'll more than once think bastard is an understatement; you'll also less than once think he's not. Baru is the nothing man and 'The Nothing Man' is Baru. He's the main protagonist, the hero, the villain, flawed to perfection, averse to morals, naively cruel in his ambitions, a wasted man with a not-so-wasted life. A failed writer is living the life of a successful activist. In the debris of the Gujarat earthquake tragedy, he figures out where his redemption lies.
On a train journey to his hometown Delhi, for once not close to the protagonist's heart, the failed writer talks about his failed marriage to a girl listening with unfailing attention. As the train moves speedily, the plot steps on the accelerator, with Baru moving out his one bastard (read master) stroke after another, amid washroom dalliances and cola-carrying boyfriends running after trains. It's corny, coyly, carnally Bollywood. Fifteen years ago, with a failed book in the pot, Baru meets his wife and as he looks into her eyes, he sees his second book.
Their conversations, 'monumental' (inside the monument) sex, life - everything goes into the book. Married life is beautiful, but real books are seldom made of happy stories. Baru retreats, Baru snaps, Baru creates hell. One bastard stroke after another. Life is not beautiful any more. But his book takes giant leaps. Divorce gives a closure. But not to the book. Today, after 15 years, Baru has a plan. He wants to re-enter his ex-wife's life though she's now happily married to a fat husband, to complete what he started with his pen. He smiles, the same bastardly smile which charms the cops and cab drivers alike.
He drinks scotch with the fat husband, bribes the kids and forces chocolates and kisses on his ex-wife. You want to punch him, but someone else does that for you. His book finds an imperfect ending - but 'The Nothing Man' a perfect one. Debutant author Ajay Khullar, a journalist, has played his stakes on Baru, he's pimping the man on the cover. There's a lethal simplicity about Baru.
He's just doing his job, working on a book that will be the title of the year. He's aware that he is a rascal, but doesn't seem to give it much thought. In parts, when the plot does a Bollywood, it's the intelligent conversations, clever observations and humour, mostly subtle sarcasm, which holds forth the book.
Khullar does a good job of creating a character that is easy to hate. But if only the reader were not given repeated reminders about the same in as many words every few chapters, his bastardness would have been much more smoothly received.
Also, if a sharper description had been made of our bastard, apart from telling us that he's on the wrong side of 40, it would have been easier to direct the disgust, and sometimes confused emotions, at a face. With 184 pages and a young voice, it's a breezy, entertaining ride marred by occasional bumps and Bollywood-shaped potholes.