Sunday, February 9, 2014
This Book Will Change Your Life - Understudies by the Ravi Mangla.
We are on the train coming home from work. It is packed. People are on the phone. They are reading. Talking to one another. Staring off into space. There is even a fight over the etiquette of wearing one's backpack on a crowded train. Space and all that. We are immersed in Understudies by the Ravi Mangla. The book pressed up to our face. And as we read a scene where the high school teacher protagonist joins one of his students and his friends to play in their band, and learns that one of the friends is named Cuisinart, we look-up and see that the person crammed in front of us is holding a Cuisinart. Just like that. We don't want to pretend that there is anything magical about this, or even that there is deeper meaning. But, some people are named Cuisinart, and others buy Cuisinarts, some take trains, and many go to work. Some of this interesting, some is not, and some of it we observe, and other things we miss completely. An observation that is also not so profound. But writers tend to see more, and try to make sense of it. Much of it is small, and otherwise meaningless, but when captured as Mangla has done in a series of culminating moments that involves neighbors, and mothers, and significant others, and dead fathers, it is life. And in capturing those ebbs and flows, there is a certain poetry that we all recognize as our stories too. All of which could, is, enough, but Mangla adds one more wrinkle: the sudden presence of a celebrity in the lives of the characters, and how such a presence reminds us of the flatness of our lives, and our need to project our wishes, dreams and hopes on them. Because even in the midst of negotiating trains, neighbors, and Cuisinart purchases, we want more, need more, and we just want to believe that we can somehow change our lives.