“...it is probably an example of how screwed up your college years can get if you don’t think straight.” And very precisely, that is what this book is all about. You start off with three well-defined characters and the system of academics in IITs, you use your creativity unstintingly to make sure these characters take wrong decisions at every corner, and you end up with a book like Five Point Someone!
The book has its strengths alright. In no time, you feel familiar with the three main characters. Ryan and Alok are stereotypes. Good looks, dauntlessness, love for creativity and free thinking, generous allowances from rich parents, and extreme loyalty toward those whom he calls “friends” define Ryan. Alok, on the other hand, is the more sensitive one who is weighed down by the cares of a needy family with a crippled father and a nubile sister. Hari, the narrator, is a more interesting character. He lacks the boldness to speak his mind whether it is with his friends or his girlfriend. He is often hypocritical and gets easily swayed by others. The character descriptions are vivid. What I found more appealing is how the author remains faithful to the character definitions till the end.
These three kids start off at IIT and are soon overwhelmed by the unfriendliness of the academic environment and vehemently criticize the system. If you are an IITian, you’ll probably be able to relate to this part. But you’ll soon get wondering when these guys would learn to accept things the way they are and become a part of the flow like you did! It takes you some time to figure out that this is never going to happen. That is when you get a hang of the dark tone that will be lasting till the end of the book. With every new turn of events, you find them sinking deeper into the mud. From starting off at 5-pointers, they go all the way to facing a Disciplinary Committee (or a “DC” – it’s something which spells D-day for an IITian!) Once you get used to the dark style, you will probably start liking it. The book offers you smooth reading in a casual, informal style. I’m no voracious reader, but it took me a few hours and very little effort to finish this one.
Now let me tell you about my immediate feelings after reading this novel. I found it shockingly disappointing! You see there was something special about those undergraduate years at IIT Kgp. Even today I would like to believe those years were the best four years of my life. So the very thought of a first book about undergraduate life at IITs brings in some expectations. You would like to be able to connect to it. Let’s keep this discussion as objective as possible. So let me ask you to name the first five things your undergraduate life reminds you of. Here are my five (in no particular order): 1. hostel life, 2. my best friends, 3. learning to manage time 4. extra-curricular activities, and 5. an urge to excel in academics and the struggle to do so. Of all these, this book talks about only the last one and that too in its most exaggerated and bitter form—so bitter that you find it horrifying.
Logically speaking, if we allow some amount of exaggeration, given the characters and the system as it is, the chain of events described in the novel, though unlikely, is probably not impossible. Had there been a lot of books written about life at IITs, one book that describes a special exaggerated case could have been acceptable. But the problem is that so far this is the only attempt of its kind. Consequently, it ends up projecting a dark, distorted picture of life inside IITs to the world outside. A good book, but it gives very wrong impressions.
So, what we need now is a book that will bring out the true flavor of IIT life. Fellow Kgpians, pick up the hint!