Big Apple 2 Bites: A Novel of Love, 9/11 and Aikido has gone the same way it typically goes with books published by Indian authors: the good books do not get publicised and the terrible ones do.
I was a bit circumspect when I had picked up a book with Aikido as one of the taglines. I agree that I had ventured myself into the mysterious realms of Kyokushinkaikan Karate and had been sensible enough to give up once I had managed to acquire a green belt.
After reading Arunabha Sengupta's book I guess I shouldn't have. I was too young to understand at that age that martial arts is not only about breaking bricks or sparring with a competent opponent, no.
Sengupta's books drives introduces you to the philosophical aspects of martial arts; about why the arts represent life; about the self-discipline it teaches you; and about making you realise that life, or anything remotely closed to life, is not to be taken too seriously.
Which brings us to the other aspects of book. Seldom has a book represented the cultural diversity across continents so intricately - and yet has managed to elaborate on why - and, more importantly, how - these diversities can be overcome.
Sengupta keeps on making you ask yourself crucial questions that were always there inside you but you were afraid to ask yourself. How important is a career? How important is a job? More importantly, what is life all about? What is it that we have all been chasing since birth?
Is truth really worth it? Is it really wrong to lie? How relevant are the principles we have grown up with? How relevant have our academic careers been? Have the class-notes really done us any good?
More importantly, how crucial a role does dhop play in our lives?
Is life all about spending hours in a cubicle, slogging your (insert body part of choice) out over weekends to make a client you are unlikely to see - so that you can be promoted to a larger cubicle, the corner cubicle, a cabin, a larger cabin, the large cabin in the corner, and so on?
Isn't life too large to remain confined to cubicles or cabins?
Isn't life too short to remain confined to cubicles or cabins as well?
Sengupta makes you think beyond the barriers; the best bit is, he does it in a style so nonchalantly easy that you start relating to him before you know. When he falls in love, you fall in love with him as well. When he hates a person he finds company in you. When he talks about loneliness you know exactly what he is talking about.
But all that is about the philosophy. Even if the book did not have a single extra layer than the obvious it is worth a read because of its unputdownable aspect: the style is gripping; the humour subtle; and the second-person narration unusual. Ten pages into the book and you're sucked into it (more so if you have ever been in love or have ever worked with very, very dumb people).
As the title suggests, it's also about 9/11: there is no unnecessary melodrama around the incident (which could easily have been inserted to make the sentimental reader weep). However, it's so authentic that the impact of the incident hits you really hard. Sengupta looks at the incident from someone's point of view who had taken the existence of the Twin Towers for granted and suddenly finds himself without it.
Talking of humour the three-word mention does not do justice to it at all. Unlike most Indian authors Sengupta's sense of humour is dry, at times obscure, and never over the brink (and uses metaphors, similies, and even the lost art of alliterations). It won't make you laugh out loud, but it will make you snigger at times and automatically make your lips curl into a spontaneous smile, so be careful if you're reading it in public transport.
Do read it. You've spent enough money buying trashy books; spend your money on something worthwhile for a change.
You may even end up creating a Babel Tower in the dimension of time as a result.