Category: The Hero’s Journey

The Reengineers: A Review by Nimi Arora

A beautifully written review by Nimi Arora, which made me look at The Reengineers from a reader’s eyes. In these insightful lines which have captured the essence of my novel, I see that Chinmay now belongs to the world. Feeling delighted, blessed, humbled and grateful.

Link to the review on her website:

The Reengineers: A Review by Nimi Arora

Chinmay, Anu and Sabi are three friends who have no other friends. Except for books, that is.
The three friends are misfits in the society, even among their own family members.

“We are ugly ducklings of the same feather…”

Chinmay Narayan is the protaganist of The Reengineers.
On the first page itself, he tells that he had two goals – to top the class ten board exams, and to kill himself after the exams. In the very next sentence, he clarifies that by the next afternoon, his life and plans had changed.
A sensible, oversensitive boy with the insensible thought of suicide in him. He believes he doesn’t fit in.
As readers, we now have a notion of where this story would go, and probably end. It is the ‘how’ that keeps you hooked.

Despite the knowledge and reminders of the upcoming suicide, there is a relaxed, serene feel to the book.

The author plays with words to describe common emotions with an elan.
“…I waited, aching to find a sentence that would draw me in, that would free me from my mind for at least a while.”

The protagonist talks about Chennai. I have never been to Chennai, but even though I can’t relate to the reminiscences of the city per se, what radiates through the words is a warmth and pride for the city that surpasses time and changes. A feeling that is not limited to one city. It is the expression of ‘home’.
“The feeling of home still pervades my city, despite the impersonal the impersonal flyovers that now criss-cross above the old familiar roads, the acres of shining skyscrapers that buzz with the sounds of the software cities teeming within them, and the gleaming malls that may soon outnumber the tiny Ganesha shrines on each street…”

The three kids with their innocent, yet profound philosophical discussions are smarter than the rest, yet trying to fit in. Your heart breaks for them.

The protagonist is looking back at that time of life and has no qualms about writing about his own shortcomings. ‘I was too full of myself’ – one of the things he remembers.

It is a coming of age book. It starts at a time when Chinmay did what his parents desired. He did not know he could choose different. Not while living anyway. So he had decided to end his life.
When the book ends, the life and its’ choices have changed drastically.

The moment of epiphany when he realised that he is a ‘seeker’.

The language of The Reengineers is rather poetic, dreamlike quality at times. You feel your sense being enveloped by the emotions of the characters whose life is about to be reengineered.

“Fourteen is the age when time first starts to make its presence felt. Time took on such a variety of hues in those days that even my frozen mind sometimes reflected the colours of the world around me, and I could feel my thoughts fluttering in the humid, salty breeze.”

The feelings of teenage infatuation…

“O for those days when these tired metaphors were teenagers too, when it was still possible to recite ‘Daffodils’ and feel thrilled as you gazed at the golden laburnum in bloom. Recognising clichés is a sign of aging. Sweet as the past may be, it best remains pressed within the pages of memory, savoured for a moment or two on quiet Sunday afternoons.”

Suddenly the vibe changes. There is mystery, tension, and danger in the air.
The world they enter seems to be a parallel to the world they live in.

As Chinmay learns and discovers, a lot of life lessons are find a pace in The Reengineers.
“It is curious how the weak-minded among us are wired like that, the way we turn subdued and silent when confronting real bullies and yet stand up almost aggressively to those who are genuinely kind to us.”

For me, the one major epiphanic moment is when he realises that he’s not a misfit. He is a seeker.
So true for so many of us, who go through life dissatisfied, not realising that to want to search for more does not make them abnormal. Irrespective of what others say.

“Everything has a reason, though it cannot always be deduced for we cannot see the full picture of a life at any point in time.”

The story of The Reengineers doesn’t rush from one event to the other. It relishes the emotions.

We know from the beginning that Chinmay wants to commit suicide and that he won’t do so. The how keeps you hooked. And it is to the author’s credit that she doesn’t disappoint in the process.
The path the story takes is not predictable.

I have lent this book to my nephew now, who is studying… well, engineering. I am going to insist that the rest of the kids (who are still in school) in the family read The Reengineers too. Nothing can explain what I feel about this book better than this fact.
I feel that it is a relevant book for everyone – students, corporate employees, spiritual aspirants… actually anyone who is looking for a more contented, confident life.

Review by Nimi Arora here:

To buy The Reengineers:

Determining a Novel’s Genre

How does one determine the genre of a novel? When I finished writing The Reengineers, I mentally categorised it as Literary Fiction. Also, Metafiction which it is, naturally, as it explores the relationship between an author and the main character of his novel. Early readers and reviewers categorised it under Young Adult, Coming of Age, Magic Realism and Inspirational Fiction among others.

The Reengineers could be classified under Young Adult Fiction as it is the coming of age story of a fifteen year old boy, and as it was plotted based on the hero’s journey.  It could be placed under Magic Realism for it is the story of a surreal adventure which, though it happens in a parallel universe,  is firmly rooted in its own reality. It could also fit into the labels of Inspirational Fiction and Spiritual Fiction, as it talks about the hero’s self-empowerment and the triumph of free will over destiny.

On the Amazon website, The Reengineers is categorised under Literature & Fiction, Spiritual Fiction and Philosophical fiction, all of which sound good, though the book only contains a dollop of philosophy in Chapter 7. For some reason, it is also shown under History and Religion & Spirituality. My publishers say that these last two categories would be removed shortly. Applying this logic, it could also belong under the umbrella of Self-help as besides the theme of self-empowerment, it also contains an excerpt of a fictional self help-book narrated in the form of corporate fables within Chapter 5.

But if I were to choose a single, specific genre for The Reengineers, I believe that  it would be the Coming of age novel with existential overtones. Novels I love in this genre include J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in  the Rye, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of being a wallflower, Ned Vizzini’s It’s kind of a funny story and the wonderful The Elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Each of these books have touched my heart with their wisdom, they have spoken to me in a way that I hope The Reengineers would speak to each reader.

A Blessed Writer

The Brain Pickings website is a treasure trove of wonderful articles, brimming with delightful, intense and thought provoking excerpts hand-picked from the works of some of the greatest writers and artists of the world, and shared with the readers so lovingly that each post reads like a personal gift to the reader.

I greatly enjoyed this article by Maria Popova which collated the wisdom of Joseph Campbell’s writing on how to find your bliss.

Poets are simply those who have made a profession and a lifestyle of being in touch with their bliss“, says Campbell.
We are having experiences all the time which may on occasion render some sense of this, a little intuition of where your bliss is. Grab it. No one can tell you what it is going to be. You have to learn to recognize your own depth.

Campbell explains how he arrived at this philosophy. “I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat, Chit, Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture.

I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

The bliss that Joseph Campbell talks about exudes from each of his books. I can sense it whenever I turn the pages of ‘The Power of Myth‘ or ‘The Hero with a thousand faces‘. I could re-read his books any number of times, and each time feel the same sense of rapture fill me, making me aware of my consciousness and my being. It is a blessing to read such writers.

Chinmay has arrived

Chinmay arrived‘. Last week, I got this text message from my Mother while I was in the middle of a meeting in the office. My Mother was referring to the author copies of The Reengineers that had arrived from HarperCollins, fresh off the press.

When I held the book in my hands when I returned home, it felt like holding a part of me. I felt a surge of peace more than excitement.

The Reengineers will be available at all leading book stores and online stores within a few weeks. It is currently available on Amazon, uRead, infibeam and a few other sites.

Chinmay has just started making his way into the world. Fingers crossed, with a silent prayer, I watch him leave, and hope that he travels safe, far and wide and comes home in the thoughts of readers.

Thumbs up to Johnny

As an avid reader of literary fiction who was brought up on the genre and reads it for pleasure, I find it disturbing when literary novels are not given the respect that they deserve. I still cringe when I remember a mid-list writer-politician’s article criticizing R K Narayan’s books in The Hindu about two weeks after that venerable author had passed on. I was equally upset on seeing the modified book display in a British Library when romance novels by a certain author were placed right next to the novels of Muriel Spark. It was distasteful to see those pulp paperbacks sharing the same shelf with those perfect novels by Dame Spark.

It was with the same feeling that I read some of the reviews on Karan Bajaj’s book ‘Johnny Gone Down’, in which the author has been compared for some obscure reason to a certain actress who is famous for her item numbers. I thought that the comparison was not justified, not only as it does not make sense to compare books with dances. It is just that both of Bajaj’s books are well-written literary novels that do not merit such an absurd comparison.

I started Johnny Gone Down with the high expectations set by Bajaj’s debut novel Keep off the Grass, which was a fine coming of age book about a young man’s search for the meaning of life. In his second book, Bajaj continues to explore the same questions that have carried heroes on their respective journeys from perhaps the beginning of all literature. Pulling the readers into its pages from the very first chapter in which the unconventional one-armed protagonist goes to play a game of Russian Roulette, Johnny Gone Down has a much broader canvas and takes the reader through a series of diverse and fantastic locations, times and experiences along with its protagonist Nikhil aka Johnny who starts out as an MIT student all set to conquer the world and in a sequence of unexpected events, metamorphoses into a genocide survivor, a Buddhist monk, a drug lord’s accountant and a software tycoon among other avatars before he reaches the end of his gruesome journey.

I read The Homecoming by Bernhard Schlink around the same time that I read Johnny Gone Down and  was struck by how the journey of the protagonist in both novels bore a resemblance to the adventures of Ulysses. Johnny also reminds one of a number of classic heroes in literature, those who stand by the brink and observe with stoic detachment as life happens to them and around them – characters such as Evelyn Waugh’s Paul Pennyfeather, Murakami’s Toru Watanabe and Hari Kunzru’s unforgettable Impressionist, Pran Nath Razdan who goes through a similar set of transformations of the self in his quest for identity.

The book is well written in strong, gripping prose and though the violence was too explicit in some places as to be disturbing, it flows smoothly taking the reader with it through the extraordinary lives of its hero as he is tossed from one world to the other, encountering ruthless soldiers, hardened mafia members, compassionate monks, clichéd gold-hearted thugs, beautiful women, wretched refugees and struggling entrepreneurs among others, building up monasteries, business empires and virtual universes, only to abandon them all and start afresh each time, until he reaches the end of his journey, both literally and symbolically as he realizes the interconnection between the patterns making the patchwork quilt of his life.

I took a long time in finishing the book as I found some parts too violent and disturbing, and was unable to continue reading. I enjoyed the humor that came through even in some of the darkest chapters and the philosophical observations of Nikhil in each of his avatars made the book all the more worth reading. I especially liked Nikhil’s discussions with his employer Philip on building a virtual universe on the internet.

I did have a quibble about the characterization of the protagonist. Nikhil seems so detached from life itself most of the time that there seems to be a wall between him and the reader. One never knows whether it is altruism, heroism or merely apathy that prompts Nikhil to save his friend’s life, an action that marks the beginning of his blood curdling adventures. Hesse’s Siddhartha too, went through several stages and transformations in his life, but Siddhartha had an innocence and a vulnerability about him, that made him easy to relate to. And so did Samrat, the likeable hero of Keep off the Grass, to whom it was easy to relate to and understand.

Nikhil on the other hand comes across as a stoic superhero – decent, selfless, contemplative, detached and at the same time empathetic to his fellow beings. Yet his real self remains an enigma throughout the book, coming through only in rare instances like his interactions with his wife, his longing for his son, and his final burst of triumph that Johnny had finally gone down for good. Still, this trait is understandable as most protagonists of the classic books in Johnny’s genre are likewise detached from their surroundings, and also to some extent from their readers. It is as though the authors had imagined them into being that way.

It is also surprising that some reviewers have compared this book to the lowbrow pulp fiction being mass published today. All kinds of books have their own audiences and while perception of what makes good literature is relative, it remains that books like these can be definitely classified as literary fiction. These are well-written books addressing some of the most important questions that constitute the bulk of all literature.

That they happen to be readable cannot imply that they can be called light reads, and it is distasteful to make comparisons between such good books and garish item numbers.


Coming soon! The Re-engineers (HarperCollins) A walk through the boundaries between fiction and reality

When the Narrative is the Hero – Luka and The Fire of Life

Salman Rushdie‘s Luka and the Fire of Life was a much awaited sequel to Haroun and the sea of stories but in many ways, Luka’s adventures do not touch the peaks scaled by that of his elder brother’s tale which is not a surprise as few sequels live up to their predecessors.

In Haroun and the sea of stories, the storyteller loses his inspiration and the flow of stories were at stake. In Luka and The Fire of Life, the storyteller himself is at stake and needs to be rescued by his younger son, who by his very birth had started rendering his aged parents young. How Luka manages to save the day and his Father (no spoilers here, it is a straightforward young adult book on the lines of the standard hero’s journey) along with his trusted companions – a singing dog called Bear and a dancing bear called Dog and how he rescues his father from being taken away by Nobodaddy (an anthropomorphised version of his Father’s death ) by bringing him magic fire form the rest of the tale. The quest to find the magic fire is arranged through a series of levels similar to that of a computer game that Luka has to cross before he can reach the prize.

There are no real surprises or heavy twists or turns and at every level, Luka has serendipitous encounters as he works his way through the maze, getting chances that seem too much like flukes (such as the very old, many times told riddle about the animal walking with four, two and three legs and guessing the name of the Insultana) to be convincing and always finds someone or the other to help him at the right moment. He does not undergo a transformation as he completes his journey and even in the final situation when he needs to make a sacrifice, he gets immediate help. Except for the extraordinary wordplay and a few passages with rare flashes of insight, Luka’s story is a far too straightforward young adult book unlike Haroun’s tale which was a fable that could be read at various levels. What makes the book special is not Luka’s journey but the narrative – Rushdie’s exquisite, lyrical prose that transforms the very act of reading the book into a wonderful adventure for the reader.

Some gems from the book
“We appear to have brought into the world a fellow who can turn back Time itself, make it flow the wrong way and make us young again”
“‘’Our dreams are the real truths – our fancies, the knowledge of our hearts. We know that Time is a River, not a clock, and that it can flow the wrong way, so that the world becomes more backward instead of less, and that it can jump sideways, so that everything changes in an instant. We know that the River of Time can loop and twist and carry us back to yesterday or forwards to the day after tomorrow.”
“There are places in the world where nothing ever happens, and Time stops moving altogether. There are those of us who go on being seventeen years old all our life, and never grow up. There are others who are miserable old wretches, maybe sixty or seventy years old, from the day they are born. We know that when we fall in love, Time ceases to exist, and we also know that Time can repeat itself, so that you can be stuck in one day for the whole of your life.”
~ From Luke and The Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie

The plot is too simple, the characterisation not as great or memorable as it was in Haroun. But the narrative and the language alone (Ah Rushdie, Shah of Blah, enchanter with words) make this book worthy of being bought, read and re-read, and a contemporary classic of its time.


Coming soon! The Re-engineers (HarperCollins) A walk through the boundaries between fiction and reality

Are you the hero of your life?

“WHETHER I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens.

Thus begins the story of one of the most famous protagonists in literature. What is it that elevates a fictional character from a protagonist into a hero? Is a hero or a heroine someone who is merely the main character around whom the plot is woven? Should a character possess heroic qualities and demonstrate them before they can be elevated to the status of a hero?

The Author and The Hero is the story of fifteen year old Chinmay who feels choked by his dysfunctional family and longs for space and freedom as he is tired of playing the good boy and living by the rules set by his strict parents. Chinmay is devastated further when he finds that he is a character in a book, with his future life already plotted out on paper. But when Chinmay’s author Siddharth loses his grip on life, Chinmay is forced to an action which will finally turn him into the hero of his life.

Are you the hero of your life?
What does it mean to be the hero of your life?

David Copperfield wanted to know in 1850. Almost a hundred years later, Holden Caulfield asked a similar question through his actions in the world of phonies as he perceived it. In Madras in 1991, Chinmay Narayan asks the same question and finds his answer in The Author and The Hero.

The Reengineers

The Reengineers is the story of a fifteen year old boy Chinmay who finds out that he is a character in a book and has to confront his author.

Some early reviewers labelled the novel as coming under the genre of ‘magic realism’ but in spite of its meta-fictional premise, this is a story that is steeped in realism with the main characters encountering real-life situations even as they cross the boundaries between the fictional and real worlds. It begins and ends in an old library in a suburb of Chennai in 1991 and takes place over the period of an hour and a day.

Chinmay’s journey begins here. I welcome you to join him as he explores what it means to be a fictional character and the nature of reality.