"A girl's 'I'm Fine', especially with capital F, is like an 'icebergs ahead' sign for a ship."
A languorous love story unfolds on the holy ghats of Varanasi, not unlike the pace of the river that flows through one of India's busiest temple towns which is the backdrop of bestselling author Chetan Bhagat's latest book 'Revolution 2020'.
Gopal, the son of a retired teacher, ridden with debt and litigation, was destined to fall head first and hard in love with the daughter of the District Magistrate from the inopportune day he decided to steal a slab of the chocolate cake she had brought for lunch. The friendship that started in the fifth standard through the hapless incident gradually took its own meandering course over the Ganga over innumerable boat rides and unspoken ballads of love, one sided of course.
Aarti is the well grounded daughter of the DM who is personally honest but not averse to looking the other way at corrupt dealings; the kind of officer that local politicians love to patronise.
Raghav completes the trio as the exceptionally intelligent local boy that many have pinned their hopes on to bring glory to the dusty town by cracking the JEE – the Holy Grail of examinations. Having grown up with Gopal, Raghav is aware how badly his impoverished friend wants to get into one of India's hallowed engineering institutions that will offer him a shot at better things in life but lacks the money to help him prepare or the merit and tenacity needed to crack the tough entrance exam.
As the plot takes the three to depths of desperation, love, ambition and crushing disappointment, Bhagat tries to reflect the state of India's private education that is not just the lifeblood but sometimes the only hope for millions of students from small towns turning their bright eyes at an assured and uplifting future.
Bhagat's reflection on the coaching system that forms the first check-in point at the Pearly Gate of technical higher learning is not just tongue-in-cheek but a dark sensor of the reality for students who leave their homes to try repeatedly for a course that is brutally structured to eliminate the weakest.
His description of a job fair where brothers who have fallen apart compete to market their own private colleges is a laugh out loud moment from the book. But the good stuff ends there.
'Revolution 2020' may be an attempt to highlight the inherent corruption rooted in India's education system and bring out the anomaly of non-profit organisations and commercialization of education, but the writing largely lacks the style that Bhagat has come to be known for.
As a story, 'Revolution 2020' offers nothing unusual or novel in rivalry between two friends vying for the affection of one girl. The fiery activism of Raghav who wants to bring about a change in society through journalism, despite having graduated as an engineer, is a diversion from the despondency of Gopal's story, which is stronger and more rooted in real life.
Bhagat's idea and description of a people's revolution is not just naive but also incomplete and the reader is left wondering till the end what exactly the nature of it will be if at all it happens. Given that this central theme is the surmise of the book, the idea of 'Revolution 2020' deserved more time and better indulgence instead of being relegated to few chapters in the end. The murky world of politics and manipulative journalism is tackled with an outsider's viewpoint and lacks serious research and depth.
Similarly, the ending is unnecessarily vague, clearly inspired by Bollywood family dramas where the antagonist-protagonist has a change of heart, gives up the girl in the corniest situation possible and drinks himself silly as the narrator (Bhagat himself in this case) weaves a life story into a three-hour, emotional wringer.
'Revolution 2020' disappoints simply because Bhagat is the author of '5 Point Someone' that had sharp humour to lace a cracking story. A lot is expected from an author who is said to have not just nudged millions of youngsters from their iPods into reading but also given a face to the average Indian student buried under parental expectations. As a book, 'Revolution 2020' is average and lacks the street smart style Bhagat is known for. The language has degenerated into clipped monologue.
It is dramatic in a garish way, idealistic without the backing of reason and sadly self indulgent. If it nails one thing, it is the systemic corruption in the education system but pity that the pointless love story gets in the way of what could have been a great read.
Book Name: 'Revolution 2020'; Author: Chetan Bhagat; Price: Rs 140; Pages: 296; Publisher: Rupa Publications