The book was read and I was reading about Vishwas Mudagal. Soon as I saw 1981 in his introduction, I shot a glance at my husband. The look meant exactly what the mind thought, and the tongue said – ‘He’s your age, this author. Look what he has managed!’ Let me beep off the conversation that followed, just domestic marital bliss no more. But let me show you why I say with full conviction that ‘Losing my Religion’ was a refreshing find in a hall full of young Indian authors writing in English. And I promise, my love for REM’s music did not colour my mind.
The Dedication and the Prologue seemed to come from a nose that rests high up in the air. And so they got me interested instantly. The book is about Entrepreneurs, ‘the Beasts … who rise … who run the world’ and if this was not enough bloated pride, the Prologue soon after claimed exclusivity for those “rebels” by stating that history is about a ‘few good men who kicked ass’. I got my challenge cut out then. What does he mean by an ‘entrepreneur’ and is that the author’s idea of a hero who creates history? Also, what does ‘losing my religion’ stand for in the book?
The answers to both the questions were intertwined and formed the basis of this gripping novel, circling around the young ‘fallen entrepreneur’ protagonist, Rishi, the people Chance throws his way, the situations that unfold as Fate and the drum-beating grand finale of sheer young Genius at play. Yes, the book is a bildungsroman of sorts - a coming of age story. Here are my first impressions.
What’s perfect 10 in the book – Portrayal of Youth Crisis
The ‘bitter, impatient, intolerant’ Rishi wakes up from a nightmare that we have all dreamt. A reflection of a career in crisis and a being suffocating in the usual. His question ‘What’s stopping you?’ to himself, when he mulls over the offer-in-hand is an oft-asked one from our lives. And relationships getting ‘frayed’ at the edges, thanks to the stress, make us nod our heads understandingly. With one friend who is always appearing for interviews and another who company hops, Rishi in this milieu is introduced to us as a picture of Us.
The existential crisis which is making him fight ‘a different battle’ is the one making him feel ‘dead inside’. A post-modernist angst about the meaningless of life surrounds him. He sighs – ‘Enough of chasing dreams … I am … faithless. Need a fresh start.’ It is this portrayal of strife in the mind that is so effectively achieved as to make the reader you feel a character from within the book’s leaves. An instant connect is formed. Empathy for Rishi, and an understanding of his storms. Interestingly, Rishi is not impulsive or fatalistic. This deeply introspective character is handled maturely by the author and is perhaps reflective of the author’s own maturity.
However, Rishi’s rejection of his Present and that ‘God doesn’t exist’ may leave you wondering – Is it really the end of the world for him? He’s intelligent and sane, so is this depression hyperbolic, especially since he has a job offer in his pocket? Only when we read further, we realize what disturbs him is his role in the greater scheme of things. Or the lack of one.
No wonder then, that the book proceeds much like a “Pilgrim’s Progress”, with Rishi learning and unlearning alongside characters and situations placed such that he has no choice but to grow – forward. He throws his ‘piece of bondage’ away and lives a cellular-free life when he wanted to be ‘just with himself’. Revealing moments of his crisis-ridden self are interspersed throughout the book, often in unprepared moments like fishing, or video-gaming. He hates heights ‘as if something was pulling him down’ and lives now in a ‘self-created cocoon’. Most importantly, with every new chapter in his life ‘he was getting restless again’ – a restlessness that is so symbolic to our generation which wants a new Sun day after day. It is only when, much into the book, Kyra asks him – ‘Why are you so overconfident always?’ that we realize the old Rishi is coming back. And somewhere around there, we hear the author say – ‘he saw chaos. But he knew there was a method to this madness. It was somewhere.’ Is this Vishwas Mudagal’s silver lining message for the youth? An answer to the post-modernist angst and restlessness which is looking for a more meaningful tomorrow? This method in madness he speaks about, perhaps to be seized and made use of?
Who is the “Beast” from the Dedication?
Through Rishi and various characters, Vishwas moulds an ideal entrepreneur’s image for us, without sounding preachy.
Today’s heroes want to be the ‘talk of the industry’ because we no longer ask - what does your father do? Our name is ours to carve, and Rishi wants to be his own boss too, certain ‘he could not work for anyone else’. Self-made, proud and how! A hero believes his ‘philosophy of gaming was revolutionary’, even if the masses don’t, and avows ‘my belief in my belief was astounding’. Just like Alex enjoys an ‘ability to not be a victim of his past’. Both, for all their confidence, carry humility enough to apologise to the village council in Malana for no wrong done. Sense of self and sense of other, combined wonderfully! No surprise then, that it is in this setting, a town removed from all things known, that Rishi learns to view his past life objectively. An act important in shaping him as a person, especially in his role as a burnt-out entrepreneur. The simplicity of the hill people and their code of honour touch him. And sitting in his shack in Goa later, we realize he has already grown enough to find ‘just a simple, more profound reasoning … following your heart’ for his present situation.
The entrepreneur in him is never dead, just reborn along the story many times. The feeling of being free, yet being involved. When a cheap cell phone becomes a ‘symbol of freedom’. When travelling makes him feel ‘this bonding with humanity … with yourself … freed me … desire to succeed ate me up, and I stopped living … I feel reborn now’. And when the idea of paying back the Malalis for the bag of “gifts” they found and used is spoken about, we know the author is talking of an entrepreneur with a heart. That the youth of today are not devoid of values, universal values common to those from across the world. Any false bravado is made to shed multiple times as the protagonist admits he’s ‘weak and vulnerable’, and even Alex says ‘I accept my past. I neither rejoice nor mourn it’. The coconuts make their guest appearance to affirm how an entrepreneur needs no AC offices to work his merit. Finally, all side-characters who help him in his adventures are full of street-smart wisdom that the author tries to amply emphasise and celebrate at the same time. Guess education is no pre-requisite to genius is the clear message.
In Kyra we meet the female hero who is ready to ‘give up all that I lived for’ but only after re-visiting her real life, because a shack in Goa was ‘not me’ at one point of time. And how the ‘gaming friendship’ turns into something else is entirely controlled by her. ‘I want my own identity’ and every aspect which is ‘nothing short of brilliant’ and we see her earn it. And how! The final ‘I accept the challenge’ makes us pat their backs, as the book shifts from 3rd gear to an action-packed 5th simply by this announcement. And we know by now the heroes are looking for a ‘worthy fight’, which is exactly why they are the confident ‘Beasts’ being glorified in the Prologue.
It is Wolf who comes across as an anti-thesis to Rishi, Kyra and Alex. He epitomizes “acquire or destroy”. If business strategies that are ‘moral, ethical and human’ are one end of the spectrum, Wolf is the other. And when it’s ‘time to hunt the Wolf’ down, we cannot help but think – Are the youth of today disillusioned because of mentors like Wolf? Is this the point where old have to make way for the ways of the new?
8/10 for language, shaab ji!
A book well-written is a relief. It keeps the story running smoothly and alive in the mind much after it has been devoured cover to cover. ‘Losing my Religion’ needs language to support a plot which goes from lazing on the beach to high-rising in NYC, or else, the grip of the plot will fall. Two outstanding ways in which language earns these marks from me are:
Alex and Rishi’s relationship – Beautifully born, wonderfully developed and superbly portrayed. They are introduced to us as two faces of ‘vagabond’, and even as Rishi initially rejects Alex as ‘junkie turned guru, eh?’ we know Alex is important. Alex’s ‘I was born lost and I love it’ makes us cling to him as fresh breeze, even though till far into the book Rishi does not connect with him. I do – not just because he reminds me of so many such wandering in Rishikesh, my hometown’s neighbour, but also because I itch to tell Rishi, “Hey, look close, there’s something about Alex that you need to see!” I agree, his ‘I don’t even think about life’ is an extreme idea difficult to warm up to, and more often than not he comes across as aimless, but being exactly in the skin that Rishi longs to be in makes him the best thing that happens to Rishi, to finally make Rishi pronounce – ‘Blondie, you are the brother I never had’.
Humour & side characters – The author uses language skilfully. Minor characters mouth dialects of their milieu, not just sounding authentic but guffaw-funny (if that’s a word!). Chauhan’s ‘Saab, revolver mein goli daal doon?’ and Ram Singh’s ‘You king of goat, Alex ji’ made me make fountains of water all over my book. Nothing beat the strength of that fountain as Laxman’s ‘Ooo thand hai na shaabji, time lageyga. Thand mein niklata nahi na asaani sey’. Inspector Dogra needs more than a lesson in biology when he goes looking for Johnson, the smuggler, despite being told what exactly it is a euphemism for. And Pappu’s ‘oye hoye’ is something I get to hear a lot, being in his neighbourhood! I sit back, giggling, and thinking confidently how ‘all pahadis believes it, by God say’ how well humour scenes are served to us in this book.
Where are those 2 points lost?
No, not the typos on two pages. In the descriptions, of nature and of streets. The journey to Malana must have been more than just ‘pristine and perfect’ but we are not allowed to imagine. Haridwar is abuzz, but more from experience than from what the book holds. However, there is a bigger problem with language, and I cut 2 whole marks there. Ruthlessly!
Somewhere in the middle of the book, the language waxes cheesy with Rishi and Kyra discussing love, separation and reunion in words straight out of a lesser-mature novel. Even when Rishi becomes a recluse as a love-stuck un-bathed man, we are not prepared to write him off as an unshaven Devdas and find it difficult to accept this side of his person. I failed to ‘experience’ a portion of the plot, where neither language nor Rishi’s portrayal is intelligently used or done, respectively. Also, where is Rishi’s family? We have heard of Alex’s and met Kyra’s. But not a single phone call over a period of years is an absence that stands out as a lacuna in the plot, for me.
It is only the edge-of-seat to and fro of the reality show that finally made me forgive and forget the clichéd dialogues I was made to read in a portion of the book. And at the point of finale ‘Fate had something different in store. And fate likes irony’. But this bit is for you to savour first-hand!
The story is strong, delivered through a good-looking plot. The characters well-rounded and believable. But the USP of ‘Losing my Religion’ remains the portrayal of youth in crisis, the idea of entrepreneurship and the final topical reality show showdown which we popularly call the climax.
Rishi, and the author, at one point in the book, say – ‘Leap out of the existence you have wrapped around yourself … you’ll fall no doubt. But sometime during that, you’ll witness a miracle taking shape around you. That’s called losing my religion’.
Pick the book, and find yourself in its pages.