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June 7, 2011

Book Review - 34 : Dilliz Boyz

Author: APS Malhotra
Publisher: Niyogi Books

Let me ask you a simple question - what is the first thing which comes to your mind when i say the word 'Sardar'? Jokes, sarcasm, cynicism. We have pretty accustomed to this notion and take it as a matter of fact in our everyday life but hardly bother to acknowledge it's impact on young kids who are way above religion and all that jazz.

Dilliz Boyz, story of Angad Khanna, a teenage, middle class boy from a family of Hindus and Sikhs was madly in love with Delhi, the only city he knew as Home or Homeland, a city he passionately loved with the fervor of a devout. He was imbibing the elixir of life, discovering the little joys that growing up brings along – of the first love, the surreptitious initiation into sex, the first drink in the company of a childhood friend, when disaster struck. It was the Orwellian year, 1984, also Angad’s sixteenth year when the riots broke out after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh bodyguards. It was time to learn new lessons, of hate and bloodletting, of compassion and bravery, of despair and death, of hope and optimism. Living as a refugee for fourteen turbulent days in his own city, he found that luck and time were on his side. He returned Home, unlike his father Iqbal, who as a sixteen year old had fled his home in Rawalpindi, dictated by destiny to seek a new Home and Homeland.

The basic and biggest flaw in Dilliz boyz is that author can't decide what topic he wants to write the book - is it a dark brooding tale of a father who had to migrate from Pakistan in 1947? Is it a coming-of-age story of a 16-year old whose life changes when embroiled in the 1984 riots? Is it a tale of Delhi and the eccentricities which have become so common now, but were beginning to show it's true colours three decades ago in the aftermath of the disaster? Multiple narratives are alright, but none of them are sufficiently developed to create an effect. All of them are introduced at a superficial level, described and then narrative moves on to the next plot point. While putting down the review, i came to know that this is the second book in the trilogy of Delhi, all pen down by the same author. The first book, meanwhile, dealt with the 1990 riots due to reservation law passed under the Mandal Commission and again traced the life of a young man in Delhi. This book can be considered same in the spirit, different in the time period. Despite of some really competent, even brilliant-in-parts writing, the book did not work for me because of a disjointed screenplay.

To be fair, the author does set up an ominous mood giving cameo descriptions of Delhi – the real metropolis – warts and all, its psyche and social fabric woven into the main story line in a beautifully knit, seamless pattern. A malice-free tongue-in-the-cheek comment on Delhi and Delhiwallahs interspersed with the grave and somber description of 1984 riots and the all-pervasive goodness in man that effectively thwarts evil forces and defeats their malicious design and intent through compassion and common sense. A triumph of good over evil, you can say. The author creates beautiful portraits from each nook and corner of the city - be it the sugarcane juice wala from UP, the migrant workers from Bihar, the visits to the Hanuman Mandir near Rivoli or even the jealous, almost obnoxious Delhi middle class.

The portions of adolescence activities and sexual awakening of Angad are well captured. Two of these incidents stood out - The Kashmiri girl whom he chases in the by-lanes of Panchsheel Park everyday after school or even the feisty Pubjabi Kudi who can't keep her clothes on seeing our young sardar. Both of these captures the essence of a Delhi romance adequately and arguably, the best portions in the book. But all these good things are messed up with some inadequate writing in almost every sub-plot. The riots portion are not gripping enough, leaving you wanting more details about the incidents. Even Angad's emotional metamorphosis on realising how Iqbal was involved in 1947 riots is contrived.

I am going with generous (2+0.5)= 2.5/5 for APS Malhotra, Dilliz Boyz. It is well intended and neatly packaged. At 140 odd pages, it is a brisk, breezy read. But the disjointed narrative will make you feel reading pages from the diary entry and not a novel. Read it for the beautiful descriptions of Delhi, the story is inherently incoherent to be enjoyed more.

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