Local – Jaideep Varma

“Six years of my life were spent travelling in the Mumbai locals and not a day went by when I did not discover a new type of a person or see somethings that would change the way I lived. There were times when I could barely get in and then there were others when I preferred to hang from the running train with the cool breeze running right into my face. The breeze carried with it all that was and still is Bombay. Very often I get into an argument with myself about whether I am attached to my home city beyond reasoning, but there are always incidents and people who corroborate my attachment to the city.

So a month back when I was browsing the Indian writing section at a popular book-store Landmark in Chennai, I saw this book with the cover that looked strangely familiar. Strange because it was something I never expected to see in this part of the country and certainly not in a bookstore. I saw a book which had the photograph of a local train gathering speed. I picked up the book and saw that its by an author I had never heard of and rightly so it turned out to be his first book called “”Local””. Instinctively I picked it up and spent the night reading it. The very first thing that you see when you open the book is a map of the train route from Churchgate to Virar. The familiar 59.82 kilometres thats Bombay. I had a huge smile on my face when I saw that map, after which I looked up to see the perplexed faces of those standing nearby.

Local is about a man who goes by the name of Akash Bhasin who is trying to make it big in the city of dreams while working in an ad-agency. While that is his face to the world, he leads an almost double life by morphing into a commuter at night. He lives on the train. The very same Bombay local that has never ceased to enthrall many while displeasing a few. At the same time the world of advertising and its small traits have been described with great subtlety.

The simplicity in the writing style is what is quite notable. Jaideep Varma has done a marvellous job of delineating the whole experience that one gets while travelling on the local. Many might disagree but then opinions are like a kaleidoscope. You see a new design everytime you look at it from a different angle. The story is interspersed with short stories about the characters that Akash meets along the way. Every story is independent of the flow of the actual story. I read this kind of a novel for the first time and loved the writing style.

The book took me back to those marvellous days I spent in Bombay while travelling on the local trains. Each and every station had a speciality of its own. The masala soda at Andheri station while coming back from the drumming lessons, the Tibb’s frankie at Churchgate station while returning home from my junior college, the body wrenching crowds at Dadar station after long hours of study and the long walk back home at Borivli station are some of the things that had become routine but some that I always liked. I still would give anything to return back to those days not just for the experience called the Bombay local but for all those friends who have gone far away.

In the small niggling disorders lie the exciting elements of life. We crib about them and want the authorities to improve them, but wouldn’t life become that much more monotonous? I, for one, certainly think it would. I love the way Bombay is and always would remain of proponent of the city of Bombay as it was a few years back. Never under-developed but not too developed to disengage that down to earth feeling.

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