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Entertainment - cent percentile!!
Nov 17, 2009 02:40 PM 4100 Views
(Updated Feb 15, 2010 02:31 PM)



Sometime back, a friend of a friend got me an interesting looking book and wanted to have my opinion on the same.

The book was by one of his colleagues and was called Zero Percentile.** I had not heard of the author before, it was his first book, but the text on jacket cover induced me to start reading it that very week. And once I was in, I was hooked on to the brisk story telling skills of the author.

It was quite a fresh experience -  reading a new author, being able to go through a book without any preconceived ideas and expectations, I loved the process. ‘Zero Percentile’ can be compared to many contemporary classics, but I feel it is as unique as any other good book. It has got a character of its own and should be kept at that.

Zero percentile is the story of an average Indian called Pankaj Sharma. Born to a middle class family in Punjab, this boy is virtually tailor made to fit into the IIT’s. He has got the basic requirements on his side – he is brilliant, hard working and is dedicated to his dream of making it into the IIT’s. The family does its part by providing the extra-time motivation.

Pankaj could be any young boy growing up in any Indian city (or village for that matter) with the responsibilities of the family in his mind; his childhood thus being just a series of relevant and irrelevant events that lead him to the IIT. Yet, everything said and done, one important factor is  not on his side – enter good old lady luck! And thus there is a twist in the tale. IIT does not happen. What happens is the real thing. Volgograd happens,  Volgograd in Russia, a place he had never dreamt of being in in his life. (You know how it is with being at the crossroads of life). But somehow, Pankaj is quick to take it at face value and goes with the tide.

What follows is an often comic and almost always believable account of his life in Russia for the next few years. He figures out quickly - life here is completely different from the secure and predictable life back home. Here he has to have an education in a language he had never heard before, beat the weather blues( in winter the temperature falls to -32 degrees), fend for himself for mundane things like daily food,  peaceful (or not so peaceful) coexistence with the hostel bullies and last but not the least to be a ‘normal guy’ in matters of heart (well, Pankaj is not one to mince words – he wants to lose his virginity at the right time). In the process things get somewhat extreme once a while - he lands up in jail, his best friend gets AIDS, his one true love in Russia .. (No, I just can’t give away the story!)

As far as the narration is concerned, I found it compelling and spontaneous. Its fresh to read a story where the main character did NOT make it into the IIT. In a very honest yet subtle way, the author tells us there is life beyond IIT, that life does not stop when you fail to realise your most cherished dream. There are a lot of emotions of Pankaj which are so typical Indian and I loved the honesty with which the author has narrated them. One such sharp observations by this young Indian boy - “We Indians are so focused on education from the day we are born, become so trained at controlling our savage side that it does not break out of its harness even when we wish it to, leading to us ending on the losing side so very often”. So true!

Russia is a great place to base the story in. It’s relatively unexplored and interesting all the same. From the jacket cover one gets the idea that the story is quite autobiographical. If it is, the author certainly has had an interesting life so far. I would personally divide the book in 2 parts – Life of Pankaj before Russia and after Russia. The continuity between the 2 parts is spontaneous. The socio cultural aspects of the Russia of the 90’s is portrayed with amazing clarity and a sensitivity that gets the reader hooked on to the story.

3.5 stars to the book. The story might seem somewhat ambiguous in the beginning; especially the events surrounding Pankaj’s birth. But do keep your ‘laughing caps’ on to receive the right signals here. The end of Pankaj’s love story is another last minute surprise. The book ends with a happy reunion, though somewhat abrupt. Also there are times when I felt the story can do with some cutting and pruning. The fact remains – the author has a story to tell.I would recommend it to everyone who wants a light, fresh read. It certainly is an easy book to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon!

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