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October 18, 2014

Book Review: Fire Under Ash

Text by Nittal Chandarana

Verve reviews Saskya Jain’s debut offering, Fire Under Ash, where she writes about the dramatic lives of her chosen Delhi-dwellers

The Read: Fire Under Ash
Author: Saskya Jain
Publisher: Random House India

Unravelling: A book about our illustrious capital, its snob appeal and its treatment to lesser-knowns amidst continual dozes of drama. Ashwin Mehta, born with a proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, is your quintessential Delhi brat. He sees life through a hazy vision of free will, papa’s riches to bail him out of any resulting consequences of said free will, and a cloud of weed. He makes one life-altering choice, which results in being distanced from his family while rendering him significantly closer to his beloved, Mallika. She, in turn, is coveted by Patna-born studying-and-trying-to-fit-in-Delhi Lallan. Then there’s Meera, Ashwin’s sister, trying to build herself a life in New York City with her fiancé, battling her own demons. The book meanders among their worlds, the choices they make and the resulting influence on not only their own lives, but also of the people they are closely connected to. Each character is written with an abundance of grey, making them as baffling as real, and people you don’t necessary enjoy identifying with. Mark of the brave.

She and him: We enjoyed reading Meera’s story. Her misgivings about her fiancé, the constant excuses she makes for him and the tug-of-war waged by her heart and brain make the crux of her character. Sorted on the outside, vulnerable within, she presents a world we see many resigned to. Our second favourite is Lallan. A colourful man trying to make his way into the big bad world of Delhi, he yearns to be accepted by his college buds, always realising (or being forced to realise) that he comes from a world that is far different from the one he has entered. Riddled with a fierce inferiority complex, Lallan tries hard to get over what he sees as his shortcomings but is finally consumed by a universe entirely too alien for him. The fact that there are comparisons drawn to the elite Ashwin as well as Ashwin’s driver show that Lallan needs more than a leap of faith to cross over to the side he aspires to be on.

What we loved: The author switches narratives seamlessly and manages to retain a firm voice for each.

Maybe not: A number of clichés were sprawled across the book, usually at significant moments.

Caught our eye: An honest moment between Ashwin and Mallika in the initial phases of their friendship.

“It’s not fair,” she said suddenly, still looking at the page.
“What isn’t?”
“This book will remind me of you, but you’ll forget me in America.”
“You think so?”
“That’s just how it is with keepsakes.”

Read it for: A book of anti-heroes as protagonists, it’s a brave first novel by the author. Read it for the healthy pulsing of drama.

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