Sunday, April 02, 2006

Five Point Someone - A Review

“...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!

9 comments:

  1. aditya2:59 PM

    well.. i haven't read the book, so i shouldn't have an opinion about it. however, i think i've come across lots of students in iit who had reduced their academic excellence to mediocrity... for reasons similar to those you mentioned... so it may not be that off....

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  2. i agree .... this book doesnt spell the basic ingrediants of an IIT ians life ....
    took your hint ... but you have gotta wait for my book .... perhaps i might write a play about it

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  3. So, what score did you give to the book... 5.something :-)?

    I agree with how not all the students in these premier institutions reach where they can, and I blame the atmosphere, majorly. [not to take away any credit from the various good parts of the atmosphere]

    I took your hint, and guess what I am going to do? I am going to go and teach :-).

    -A

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  4. Anonymous9:12 PM

    well.....well........

    i believe that all except the "last day" of the book was pretty much very close to the reality of iit life.....and concerning projecting the image of iit to outsiders, i think this book atleast tells the outsiders tht iit is not all about "gud boy academicians"........theres some darker side to it which they wont believe if somebody tells them.
    and regarding the faculty...i very much agree with the image projected....

    i agree tht it should have also highlighted other brighter aspects of iit life...may be iit d didnt have those many brighter aspects as kgp...may be.........

    and tell u wht...i really fell for "neha"...hehe

    chalo..keep blogging !!
    but kolkata blog was just too touching to read !

    Suyash

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  5. haha! i read the book when i was flying to US just after graduating frm kgp.. and belv it or not, in those hours, i truly re-lived the 4 years @ iit. i thot it was very close to my life itself! (just reduce the amplitude of craziness by 2-3 %, kick that 5 point by 2-3, boost luck factor by 20-30%.. and ther i am!)

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  6. @ayan: hope that play is staged at a time and place so that i can get a role too. :-)

    @animesh: 7/10

    @suyash: just the kind of a comment i was looking for!!
    so far have come across too many people who hated the book - one of the reasons i read it so late. i am glad to hear some different views.
    i agree with you about the fact that we don't know what it's like in iitd. also, chetan bhagat graduated from there over 10 years ago.
    and yes, the image projected of the faculty is also very real, although i forgot to mention it in my write-up.

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  7. Charu5:26 AM

    Joyiiiii :)..yeah when you get bored workingg, there should be some other timepass other than orkut(which i've outgrown i think ;))..
    And yeah exaggerated is the right word for the book.I cant believe tht some one studied for 3 weeks day and night and still ended up with a 5 point something ;) ..hehe..He shud have been a 9 pointer!!

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  8. definitely you will get a role .. i have been dying to do a play with you

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  9. A good review, though I tend to disagree in parts. Do you really think the book is that dark or horrifying? It all ends quite happily I think with the guys getting jobs and/or girlfriends and supporting their families despite screwing up their GPAs/ facing DC and notwithstanding the cynical tone of the book, nothing of consequence really 'happens' to them. I have known worse things. In fact I found the book a bit too optimistic. And yes, I think Charu is right...to study for three weeks... and still end up with a five point something you really have to suck :)
    However, it's true that the book misses many important elements of IIT life and harps on the acads and the 'system' a bit too much.

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