Looking for Love?

February 6, 2011

Book Review - 6 : My Friend Sancho

Author: Amit Varma
Publisher: Hachette Books

When crime reporter Abir Ganguly is called out by the police to cover a routine arrest one night, the last thing he expects is a shootout. But bullets are fired, and a man is dead. Did the cops screw up? Abir's boss, not knowing that he was at the scene if the crume, wants him to file a story about the victim. For this, he must meet Muneeza, aka Sancho, the dead man's teenage daughter. Over the next few days, an unlikely friendship forms between the glib, wisecracking 'armchair cynic' and the simple girl who 'travels on buses'. Can their fragile relationship survive the circumstances that brought them together? More importantly, can it survive the machinations of the jealous lizard that shares Abir's flat?

Firstly, let me confess that before picking MFS, I wanted to go through Amit Varma's famous blog, India Uncut. There is a notion prevailing that people who have been an ardent reader of his blog will identify with the book more and others may just feel alienated. But eventually i decided against it, I think it's important to read every book independently and to judge it on its own merits. And in all honesty, that's the approach I finally took while reading and critiquing this book. Now all i can say is... two cynical people always connect in life, you don't have to read other people thoughts before hand :P

Let me start with the shortcoming - the biggest problem is the drama and the action are conspicuous by their absence. Trust me, the above blurb of the book is the only story twist and turn in the narrative which is a pity, because it had the core elements of humour and wit in the right place. Even though i must add that it is a character-centric book, in which the trials and twists in the screenplay does not come from the basic plot, but from the character's motivations and catharsis.

I can understand that the author doesn't want to make it into a "serious" literature even while making points about serious issues. But there is no excuse for taking the readers for granted and not even giving a decent narrative to take home. So even though nothing much happens all through the book, it still holds your attention because it fulfills the basic premise when you decide to pick a book - it entertains you.

What is excellent in the book is the irreverent humour and an adorable charm of being wacky and sarcastic. There are quirky punchlines thrown every now and too many similar references of cow, politics and pet animals just like his blog (which i have read now after finishing the book). Even though there are too many pointers of himself and his blog which may be goofed off considering it as an in-joke but unfortunately, it is done repetitively and at times, on such inopportune borders on narcissism and ultimately puts off the reader. However, with engaging dialogues, crackling wisecracks, and long food-for-thought passages, the book always keeps you on tenterhooks.

The romance between Abir and Muneeza has a fresh feel of innocence and to the credit of the author it is never being down graded by the cliche' of making it an inter-religion or a caste issue. The moments of introspection and procrastination have been written with aplomb, which are deeply entertaining yet makes you cringe with embarrassment since you may have experienced them yourself at some point of time in your life. Almost all the characters are grey, even Inspector Thombre who has kills Muneeza's father by mistake is portrayed to be sympathetic, citing his low case upbringing. It is pretty evident that the author doesn't want to take sides and let readers decide what is right and wrong in the characters.

I was also a tad underwhelmed by the role of the lizard at Abir's home, which is portrayed to be a really important part of his conscience but eventually falls apart by the end of the book. No doubts its well intended and provides the required sarcasm, but it never fly off on an tangent to make it more memorable. Similar sentiments are also echoed by the sudden climax of the book which may also be an indication for a sequel.

I am going to be a little forgiving regarding the lack of a proper plot and will go for 3/5 for Amit Varma's first book, My friend Sancho. It reminded me of Arvind Adiga's "The White Tiger", one of the best straight faced humane humour book published in recent memory. If you are cynical with life or catches yourself every now and then thinking too deep about mundane things (like me!), you have to read this one. I am going to buy his next book, but Mr. Varma...can we have some concrete storyline next time please?


Smita said...

Had expected loads from this book but found it an average read! Just another book by a blogger!

Amit Gupta said...


I agree it was an average read when you think in totality of the book. But i have never read his blog and i thought the wit and the humour was exceptional. Somewhere i identified with that cynicism, though as i said in the review, there was no story to take home and it's a pity.

rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read My Friend Sancho by Amit Varma. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.