“When we are young, we have stars in our eyes. We have dreams. We romanticize the unattainable. Once the dream is attained, everything seems dreary. Once we are There, we realize their is no There. There is now Here. Disillusionment follows. Life is drudgery. Yet it is important to dream.”
Five young men and women form a friendship over the course of two years at St. Xavier Junior College that may not stand the test of time but will flicker throughout a lifetime. Together they will rewrite history, change the norms and have a whole lot of fun doing it, while shedding a few tears along the way.
Karan Khanna is a confident, handsome, verbose, dramatic and caring young man. He is the son of a successful businessman who finds fulfilling familial responsibilities more important than celebrating his son’s academic or athletic successes. The majority of time Karan feels that his father despises him, he even doubts the fact that he is, in fact, his father’s son given the stark differences in their character. On the other end of the spectrum Karan loves his mother Anita unconditionally. Karan is used to celebrating at parties with national dignitaries, famous cricketers and Bollywood actors. One special quality about Karan is that he perceives people in colour. This supernatural ability or neurological condition called synethesia which helps him in understanding the emotional landscape of the people he comes across on a daily basis.
“In the months that followed, Karan had grown up. Literally. He had learned some fundamental truths. That nothing was forever. That to love was to lose. That those who break the rules all the time get away, but those that follow rules are not pardoned on that one occasion they are unable to obey them.”
Arjun Rao is a meek, honest, disheveled, vulnerable, and unassuming young man. When he meets Karan things begin to turn for him from a social perspective. After receiving a fresh haircut, follicle-friendly shampoo, a new wardrobe complete with fitted underwear, Anjun feels like a new man that can’t get over how he looks in the mirror, but don’t ask him to shave his mustache. To Karan, Arjun was blue, his favourite colour meaning calmness and success. Indumitra “Indu” Chatterjee is a precocious young women with a radiant beauty that has every woman wanting to be her and every man wanting to be with her. She is a voracious reader of anything and everything, a master manipulator using her feminine wiles to get what she wants and the ringleader to the establishment of the gender equality and quasi-activist group called The Famous Five. Indu comes from a very unemotional and haphazard household with absentee parents. This type of upbringing for a young woman provides her many opportunities in a social environment that could eventually lead to a series of unfortunate events. To Karan, Indu was peppermint pink representing her magnetic attraction.
Aarti is a drab, inconspicuous, fair, awkward, natural-looking young woman and is uncertain of what her future entails. While everyone around her is preparing for life after college she is undecided. She doesn’t want to be a teacher because they don’t make enough money, she doesn’t want to be an engineer because it consists of non-traditional maths, and she doesn’t want to be a doctor because she can’t stomach the sight of blood. What initially seemed like a limitless world has quickly limited itself to a selection of few. Aarti believes that happy endings only happens in fairy tales, not real life. In Aarti’s life she has had one true love and that was with a man twenty years her senior. She has longed for a father figure all of her life. During her childhood she selfishly begged her mother to remarry, if that didn’t happen she would have to put it in her own hands at a later date. To Karan, Aarti was white representing purity and innocence.
Danny is an enigmatic, quiet, but consistent young man. While others demand attention Danny is just thankful to be there among a collection of friends with their own distinct interests and personalities. Danny never talks about his past, his family situation or anything that is taking up residence in his mind. He is more than content being another spoke in the wheel and not upsetting the mango cart. Danny has helped Karan adjust to life in the college of Bangalore where he is enrolled in the Computer Science program. He talks with Aarti about her career aspirations and advises her to be herself and follow her heart. He gives Indu money at a necessary time to help replace the material things she lost one night out on the town. Danny taught Arjun to be honourable and noble at times when times are tough and the immediate future looks bleak. Over time Danny proved his worth to the others and was helpful to all, but when he needs help will the others be there for him?
Karan and Arjun share the same birthday and we’re born in the same hospital St. Xavier while sharing a tragedy in that their mothers died during childbirth. The difference was the reaction of the father’s, for Karan his father was almost joyous, for Arjun his father was uncontrollable. On this bittersweet day, Aarti experienced her own tragedy as her father was killed in a motorcycle accident. It is easy to surmise that these three were destined for friendship. Everything happens for a reason and the idea of sharing in tragedy and the miracles of life, it must have been God’s plan to bind these three in friendship.
“Time stood still. Things were still the same. Time had passed. Things had changed….”
Twenty years later in they reunite at their self-appointed hangout spot The Five Star Cafe. Everyone has physically changed but together they transform into their eighteen year old selves. Suspiciously Danny is the only one that has not shown. Indu makes a cryptic but not surprising mention that Danny had been killed, shocking everyone. After admitting her comment was untrue they decide that they should find their friend, for Karan it seems more important to him than the others. Once the good feelings from seeing one another wear off you see that something is missing with the Famous Five besides Danny. Something internally has led Indu and Karan into a depressive turn while Aarti and Arjun are desperately searching for something themselves. After many failed relationships, will Karan finally find the one he will love unconditionally? So many questions are left to be answered
I was hooked from the prologue. This book initially reminded me of one of my favourite books, Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey with the interrelated stories and the concept of God’s plan. When writing this Mr.Wilder said he was posing a question: “Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual’s own will?” This book doesn’t delve into that feature as much as I would have liked, but it was still a great read. The author displays a tremendous grasp of the totality in the vast emotional landscape and how the past can control the present and foretell the future. Through the high’s and the low’s that life inevitably brings, the author showcases the progressions and in some cases the regressions that each character goes through to their end point in the novel. With the knowledge of the characters that the author provides, the reader is able to forecast the rest of their lives for good, bad or indifferent. With the author’s elegant prose the characters come alive and jump through the pages leaving the reader with a truly unique experience. The characters development tends to compare and contrast to the development of India from the structured and traditional into the modernization and liberated state that it is today. There is a lot to learn in this story and I would recommend it to young adults that are possibly searching for themselves or are having trouble fitting in in their current station in life. As depressing as some of the material in this story is there is also a message of hope when all in life seems lost.
“Men’s hearts are made of glass. Tough on the exterior, very easy to break, crack, shatter to smithereens.” Karan expostulated. “Woman’s hearts are made of elastic. Flexible. Resilient. Why did I not realize this simple truth?”