Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Message from Paris - Commonwealth Essays and Studies

Even as The Best Seller does pretty well in the Amazon marketplace, I am glad to note my earlier works being discussed.

I received a copy of the Commonwealth Essays and Studies Journal (volume 31 No 2) published by Societe d'Etude des Pays du Commonwealth from Bouteque de Cahiers-bookshop of the Press Sorbonne Nouvelle, 8 rue de la Sorbonne, 75005 Paris.

In it, eminent lietrary reviewer Shyamala A. Narayan has the following to say  in her article about Recent Trends in Indian English Fiction:

Three novels about software professionals stand out: 
Arunabha Sengupta’s Labyrinth  and Big Apple Two Bites , and Priyo Ghosh’s You are Fired . 
 Shankar Roy, the protagonist of You are Fired, has a degree in information technology, and lives and works in Singapore. When his company is unable to land a lucrative contract because of a rival firm’s chicanery, he is fired. We are shown the sudden change in their lifestyle; he and his wife Anu have to move out of their big house into a poorer neighbourhood. Roy starts questioning the values of corporate life; instead of looking for another job, he steps in to help his neighbour, a Chinese widow whose store is running at a loss. He uses his knowledge of software and information technology to build it up into a thriving business.
Labyrinth shows two brilliant engineering graduates caught in the labyrinth of a huge software company “Adieu Consultancy Solutions” (modelled on Tata Consultancy Services). 

Kiran Arothe is a senior software engineer, who has joined A.C.S. because they promised to post him in Bombay after the initial orientation. A.C.S. is shown as a soul-less company, interested only in profits. When it comes to recruiting young people like Vikram Gupta from college campuses, they paint a rosy picture of their future career; once they have been inducted, they are made to sign a three-year bond. But youngsters still leave, in spite of this. So the Vice President, Digambaram, and Dr Nageshwar, head of the Human Resource Department, get the brilliant idea of making the youngsters submit their original certificates. How Vikram manages to outwit the company, and get justice for Kiran Arothe, forms the plot of the novel. 
Vikram Gupta is a refreshingly different protagonist; he does not suffer from any deep-seated anxiety, or worry about the clash between modernity and tradition in India, his concerns are more mundane. The Bengali Vikram dislikes everything in Chennai — the food, the climate and the work atmosphere. His longing to return to Calcutta, to his mother and dog, is vividly portrayed. He has problems renting accommodation (and A.C.S. is unhelpful). 
 “Renting to bachelors is always a big problem” says the landlord’s daughter, so Vikram claims that he is going to get married soon. 
This leads to some hilarious situations in the novel, especially after Vikram meets and falls in love with a young girl whose sense of humour matches his own. There is a wide variety of characters. There is no attempt to present all managers as villains and the young recruits as angels.

Sengupta’s second novel, Big Apple Two Bites features a more experienced software professional who is sent to the U.S.A. as a consultant. His two visits to New York (the “Big Apple”) in 2001 and three years later, are recounted in the second person, adding a touch of freshness to the narration. The first person (autobiographical) account is fairly common; here the novelist manages to sustain the technique of referring to the protagonist in the second person right through the book:

And it is solitude that you crave. You want to get away from the crowd and open your new book. The one you bought the day before. The impromptu party in the Clifton apartment made it impossible for you to read it the previous evening. You dearly want to make up for lost time. (Big Apple Two Bites 5)

The higher management in the software company seems to have grown even more unethical, regarding everything in terms of dollars. They have no qualms about dismissing hard working young engineers, once the project is over, they care only for their own advancement.
 Big Apple Two Bites shows the varied responses of Indian professionals visiting America. Some grumble about the food and culture, others direct all their efforts towards saving money. 
Sen’s time in New York revolves around the Japanese martial art form Aikido, and an attractive colleague, Allison Palmer. His American colleagues are individualized — while Bruce and Allison are warm and welcoming, others resent the Indians. Maureen says about Indians, “You have a dog? I thought they ate dogs in India ... Well, what can people do? They don’t have enough to eat. . . So they eat whatever is available . . . dogs. . . jobs. . .” 
 The novelist deals with great sensitivity with the issue of outsourcing, an issue which is of concern to many in India.

(Tired of the reluctance of my erstwhile publisher of Big Apple 2 Bites to distribute my book or pay accumulated royalties, I have now made it available on Amazon at a much reduced price. Labyrinth is also available on Amazon)

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