A Broken Man by Akash Verma
A Broken Man is the story of Krishna, A Dalit boy from a small village in Bihar and his love story with a Brahmin girl Chhavi from Lucknow. The two are students at the Lucknow University, which is where they meet and fall in love. Forced to choose between Krishna and her father, Chhavi chooses her father. A broken-hearted Krishna makes his way to Mumbai with a box full of belongings and Chhavi’s recommendation for a job at an advertising agency. Then on, the story traces his journey as he makes his way from the ad-world to tinsel town.
What I liked
I begin with a disclaimer of sorts. I picked up this book because of its setting – my hometown Lucknow. And it scores a perfect six on that front. As the story took me through the campus, the departments I’d been to, the library I’d passed a thousand times, the restaurant I go to even now, it left me with a warm nostalgic feeling.
My personal liking apart, A Broken Man captures student life at the Lucknow University to a tee. The hullaballoo of the election, the speeches, the street plays, the student politics – all just as it happens.
While there wasn’t much to the story I did like the way it was told. The bits of Hindi poetry were beautiful, the little grandma’s stories that Chhavi picks, endearing.
Also, I loved how Chhavi remains a part of Krishna’s life, how he constantly summons her in his imagination at every significant point in his life – at each moment of doubt, at each victory.
What I didn’t like
Editing editing editing. I am wary of new Indian authors for this reason alone and A Broken Man proves my point yet again. Phrases like ‘KK took a waited look’ (What is a waited look??), ‘KK had eyes that ached of pain’ ‘a drink from the well-stuffed bar (how about ‘well-stocked’?), stand out like sore thumbs.
The narrative is teeming with adverbs (The author would do well to read Stephen King’s On Writing, a very useful book for writers, aspiring or otherwise) and repetitions.
Take this instance – The blurb reads ‘high caste Brahman girl’. Either Brahman or high caste should suffice, specially on a blurb. Am I nitpicking? Maybe. But the thing is, it can get tiresome when it goes on page after page.
There is much ‘tell’ and less ‘show’.
Lastly there are some factual errors. I know this is fiction not fact, and allows for liberties, but because I applauded the book for its real-life representation of the University campus it is only fair I point out the flaws too.
One, A girl could never ever walk into a Lucknow University boys’ hostel in 90s. I’m not sure it’s possible even now.
Two, a Dalit boy cannot arrive in a village with an obviously high caste girl (‘she can’t pass off as a Dalit girl…. her skin glows like fresh milk’. The author’s words, not mine), be seen by the high caste men and go without comment or action. Nothing remains a secret in a village. She will most definitely not be left in peace to make out with the Dalit boy by the side of the pond in the middle of the night. Just not possible.
Then, there’s Mumbai. Without adding spoilers, all I’ll say is that the story in Mumbai, becomes overly simplistic and predictable.
In the end I’d call it a simple story that could have been better told – pick it or leave it.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from Writers Melon in return for an honest and unbiased review.