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Outsourcing Wodehouse


Highly recommended for all veterans of campus life in India.

Anything For You Ma'am: An IITian's Love Story, Tushar Raheja, Srishti Publishers and Distributors, 2006, Rs. 100.

THERE is no doubt that you have to be very, very smart to get into IIT. But there is a difference between smart and talented. Tushar Raheja, a fourth year student at IIT, Delhi, has written one of the funniest books in recent times.

He makes no bones about the fact that he has honed his style on the breezy, "top of the morning to you, old chap" Bertie Wooster attitude to life, bacon and eggs, pesky relatives and birds, particularly birds.

In fact, a crucial turn in the plot of Anything For You, Ma'am: An IITian's Love Story takes place when an IIT professor discovers a rare, early P.G. Wodehouse, The Golden Bat, at a railway book store, and loses his wallet in the excitement.

That Raheja is able to sustain this style with what is pretty lightweight plot material — an IIT Delhi boy in love, planning a journey to Chennai to meet his girl friend — is testimony to his writing skill.

Holding attention

He has this instinctive ability to hold your attention with narrative deviations that illuminate disparate subjects — the charm of campus life, stupid and pig-headed Professors, the advantage of having many sisters (you get a chance to date their friends), the adventure of train travel in India, the joy of an early winter in Delhi (the weather encourages you to fall in love) and so on and so forth.

What Raheja does is to very cleverly localise the Wooster persona. So English aristocracy, the idle rich, the lad sent down from Oxford, the young man with great expectations and little ability, the chappie whose only survival tool is a smart gentleman's gentleman called Jeeves — all this is turned into rich material for humour of a local kind. P.G. Wodehouse has been outsourced to IIT Delhi, Bombay, Chennai, Kharagpur, Kanpur and Guwahati.

The storyline

In Anything for you Ma'am we have Tejas Narula, scion of an upper middle class North Indian family who has to live up to the expectations of his doctor parents and complete his B. Tech in Industrial Engineering. He does everything but. He bunks classes, lies to professors, plays the rhythm guitar and treats the campus like a large joint family ancestral home.

Then he commits a cardinal sin. He decides that the end of semester "Industrial tour" can be converted to a love tour of Chennai, with the help of a fake doctor's certificate from Pune, by inventing a "brother's wedding" and by getting included in the IIT shotput team, courtesy his friend, "Tanker".

The English spoken in the novel is not the Queen's English, not even Prince Harry's English. It is the language of campus India — richly inventive, bawdy, full of irreverent references to `high culture' in Hindi cinema. When Tejas is caught red handed on one of his wild escapades, he confesses: "I felt like Chhota Rajan or Chhota Shakeel or Chhota ya Bada whatever. It must be a trying experience for them, the moment they are trapped.....Now I could sympathise with them. They must have felt like shit."

But this heartfelt empathy is not extended to the Professors at IIT. Their villainy — threatening of students and then bringing them before DISCO (the "Disciplinary Committee" at IIT) monitoring student activities through SALAD (Society against Liquor and Drugs), telephoning parents with complaints — is unmitigated. They cannot be forgiven. Only when `Tanker' pours whiskey and soda on three of them — Hon. Dean of undergraduate Students, Hon. Warden, Karakoram House, Hon. Head, Industrial Tour Committee — drenching them completely, is there a sense of mild, temporary and brief regret.

This novel is highly recommended for all veterans of campus life in India. The longer you have taken to complete your graduation, the more years you have failed and passed in the second or third attempt, the more sustenance you will draw from it. Some of the humour is side splitting.

However, it must be said that the tying up of loose ends at the end of the book is most unsatisfactory and reads like the script of a `B' grade Hindi movie, full of improbable coincidences and unlikely characters.

In his next novel, which we look forward to, young Tushar Raheja would be well advised to stay away from the temptation of drawing perfect triangles, squares, pentagons and hexagons in his narrative. This skill might be useful at institutes like IIT, even praised by the useless Professors there, but has no literary merit whatsoever.

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