Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Happy Associate by Urja – A Book Review

Spending most of your waking life in an office doing a white collar job is a relatively new phenomenon for human beings. For many thousands of years, our ancestors hunted in forests and tilled the land. The industrial revolution forced many Western Europeans and later North Americans to suddenly adapt to a life regulated not by sunrise and sunset or the crowing of cockerels, but by the factory foreman’s watch. India started industrialising much after the West and most Indian genes (like mine) switched from country-life to a post-industrial lifestyle without having to undergo the trauma of working long hours in a factory’s production line.

Not much creative juice has been spilled in portraying or caricaturing white-collar lifestyles. At least not as much as has been wasted over war or love or crime. There are exceptions of course. Dilbert comes to mind first. And his colleague Asok (sic). Recently I read and reviewed a book “In Office Hours” by the celebrated British journalist Lucy Kellaway which takes a very detailed look at modern day corporate lifestyles

However, there has been a total absence of Indian writing on this subject. Total absence until Urja (a pseudonym) took up the pen and wrote The Happy Associate. A delightful book of 114 mid-sized pages, The Happy Associate shines a light on Kirti, a not-so-delightful metrosexual (male) tax expert in his mid-twenties who works for an accounting firm in Delhi. Kirti has taken the metrosexual train so far beyond that he seems to spend most of his time at the hair dresser’s and cries when he doesn’t have a date for the weekend. The office culture is very much (non-MNC) Indian. First names are rarely used (peers use nick-names), the boss is called Sir and attendance seems to be mandatory at the office Holi-party.

Having worked in offices which demanded near-total sacrifice of employees’ lives and having co-existed with colleagues in an environment where scheming and plotting is a part of daily life, so much so that not only does one take it for granted, but also enjoys it to a limited extent, I immediately recognised various characters and mini-plots in The Happy Associate. Urja’s writing, elegant at all times, is also very smooth and when she slips into Indian office lingo, one hardly notices.

Kirti wants to tame and wed the arrogant Mandira, his colleague at work. Whether he manages to do so forms the main focus of this book, which ends with a surprising twist. However, because Urja puts in so much effort in caricaturing Kirti and telling her readers of his peccadilloes, one (at least I did) ceases to care whether Kirti succeeds or not. In other words, Kirti doesn’t evoke too much sympathy. This is the only notable negative in what is otherwise a very good read.

As mentioned earlier, this book is not very long, a novella more than a novel and can be read in a couple of hours’ time. I would rather not say any further and spoil your fun in reading this for yourself.

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