PLOT: 4/5 CHARACTERS: 4/5 WRITING STYLE: 4/5 CLIMAX: 4/5 ENTERTAINMENT: 4/5
There was a time when I used to pick up a lot of books about college life in India. Sudeep Nagarkar’s You’re Trending in My Dreams, Sidharth Oberoi’s The Backbenchers, and Himanshu Rai’s My Mute Girlfriend are a few that immediately come to my mind. When I first laid my eyes on Piyush Rohankar’s A Pleasant Escape, I thought of it as yet another college romance. Fortunately, it was much more than that. Read on to know my thoughts on the book and how was my experience of reading it.
With an interesting blurb and an eye-catching cover, the book manages to create a good first impression. The title ‘A Pleasant Escape’ creates an intrigue because the reader is immediately drawn to the escape part of it.
While many other books are written about college love, one rarely reads about the journey of a UPSC civil service aspirant.
Further, a page full of recommendations and a foreword by the digital editor of Filmfare adds to the credibility factor.
The only thing that doesn’t strike as impressive is the relatively small font size. It is a pain to read such small fonts for readers like me.
The story as it goes
Alok Shirke wants to be a civil servant and comes to the dusty old lanes of Old Rajinder Nagar in New Delhi to prepare for it. While he was harboring rosy ideas about a secure and respected future, he had no idea that the world that he is soon to inhabit would be much more than heavy books and day long classes.
In his journey for the preparation for the toughest exam in the country he comes across many people who shape him as a person. These experiences that he has, of love, friendships, hopes and regret take him on a roller coaster ride from hospitals to brothels, from Guwahati to Kashmir to Turkey to finally the sacred halls of UPSC.
This is Alok’s story.
The author makes use of a language that is rich and expressive and would add to your vocabulary. That being said, he doesn’t overload the narrative with too many of these words, thereby drawing the line between rich/emotive and complicated/boring writing.
There is a generous use of dialogues and conversations to take the story forward. The text is neither too descriptive nor too brief, treading the fine line between paragraphs and conversations.
The magic of fast-paced writing
For such a layered plot with a multitude of characters, the narration is miraculously fast-paced. The book doesn’t dull down or gets monotonous at any point in time. Instead, through an effective mix of humor, sarcasm, irony, poetry, and descriptive and persuasive writing, the author manages to maintain a steady pace, making the reader want to turn pages after pages.
Current affairs galore
I love how the story is woven around real places and events. This brings a sense of familiarity and relatability to the reader. More so for readers who are based in New Delhi, and are acquainted with the many lanes and by-lanes of Old Rajinder Nagar.
Another major bonus is the interweaving of contemporary issues and events in the narrative. For example, an important subplot is woven around the events of the 2011 anti-corruption movement spearheaded by Shri Anna Hazare.
Humor tinged with reality and sarcasm
While the overall tone of A Pleasant Escape is light and humorous, there are instances when the book assumes a much sombre tone. In addition to the many adventures and misadventures of an IAS aspirant, it also acquaints us with the harsh realities of many whose lives are tainted by grief, corruption, greed, and poverty. In Manish’s (one of the side character) story we learn about the fragility of life and the hardships of poor farmers who have been exploited by agents of greed and corruption.
Evokes all kinds of emotions
It is the brilliance of the author’s writing that makes the reader experience all kinds of emotions. You easily fall into a sense of camaraderie with some of the characters. You also feel an intense feeling of pity and compassion at times and anger and disappointment at others. You smile in some chapters, while some others make you teary-eyed.
The power of writing is enhanced by the inclusion of some beautiful poetry from the author’s pen. While most of the poems are inspired by the charm and elegance of gorgeous women and feelings of romanticism, others are inspired by phases of struggles and challenges, and the ideas of hope and positivity.
A packaged deal
The book has all the necessary ingredients found in a typical Indian college romance and then some more. It has long-lasting friendships, casual relationships, parent troubles, family drama, first love, make-out sessions, and young addictions, but also youthful dreams, aggression against the system, social evils, legal injustices, the curse of poverty, and much more.
Inside the world of IAS aspirants
For a layman like me who has no idea of the UPSC civil services, the book talks a lot about the preparation that goes into it, the numerous hours of studies, the deep agony of failures, the mounting pressure from parents, the fear of facing successful batchmates, the depressing and sub-standard conditions that one lives in, and the absolute renunciation of all ties that the candidates experience in order to crack the exams.
The sheer amount of hard work and dedication that goes into the transformation of an IAS aspirant to a civil servant can be gauged from the following statement given on the last page of the book.
“Ten lakh aspirants think of writing the UPSC exam, seven lakh fill the form, six lakh write the exams, and only a thousand or less get selected.”
Civil servant or serpent?
The book familiarizes one with the term ‘civil serpent’ used to denote one who ends up being a selfish and greedy bureaucrat; an exploiter of the general public. Good for me, because I learned a new term to flaunt in my conversations!
A story with many layers
I love the fact that the story reveals itself in many layers, and as it progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for the reader to predict where the plot is headed. In the first go, it might appear as just a regular Indian young adult fiction with an ‘IAS ka Tadka’ but delve deeper, and you would know just how complex and intricate the entire thing is.
By the end of it, the story of the IAS aspirant Alok becomes the story of a youth, the story of a generation, the story of a nation.
A narrative that is symbolic and powerful
A Pleasant Escape deals with a lot of struggles, issues, and phenomena that are negative, traumatic, or distasteful. It’s a book that talks about social evils like greed, corruption, sex trafficking, unjust legal machinery, stigmas of caste, creed, and religion, nepotism, dark bureaucracy, red-tapism, substance abuse, tremendous parental pressure, unfair and unjust family expectations, struggles of the poor and the downtrodden.
At the end of it, though, the book has a tone that is brimming with positivity and blazing with hopes and dreams. It is a book that, despite all the wrongs that it portrays, can show you the silver lining in the darkest of clouds. It makes you want to believe in dreams and aspirations, exemplifying the age-old adage ‘nothing worth having comes easy’.
A heady concoction of dynamic characters
There are many characters who inspire you with their dedication, who charm you with their innocence, scare you with their traumas, and leave you flabbergasted with the tales of their struggles. Though the protagonist is an IAS aspirant, the story doesn’t limit itself to a single occupation. It also narrates the tales of those whose lives have been touched and impacted by these aspirants.
Who should read?
A Pleasant Escape should be read by anyone or everyone who has aspirations of becoming a civil servant one day. The realistic writing combined with the author’s own experiences of cracking the UPSC civil service exams makes it a worthwhile read, especially for such readers.
That being said, reading this book would bring about a deep sense of empathy and respect amongst the non-UPSC crowd towards existing civil servants or UPSC aspirants.
What could have been better?
Despite having spent a considerable amount of time penning my thoughts about the book, I couldn’t think of a single thing that I would have liked to change in the book.
A climax that knocks you out
After a long time, I came across a book whose climax blew me away. Choosing my words very carefully (because I’d like to refrain from divulging much), I would certainly call the climax a surprise package.
It is unpredictable and comes at you with a bang. Forget about the ‘how’ and ‘when’, the reader wouldn’t even be on the same tangent so as to guess the ‘what’ part of it.
In the end
In the end, A Pleasant Escape is a social commentary that takes the shape of a fiction novel. While narrating the story of an IAS aspirant, it also narrates the stories of many average Indians whose lives have been shaped by the social evils around them.
The final verdict
Go for it!
Pick the book if
- You enjoy stories about Indian youth.
- The idea of an IAS aspirant’s tale appeals to you.
- You enjoy fast-paced entertainers.
- You aspire to write the UPSC civil service exam one day.
- You are looking for a good story.
Skip the book if
- You are only looking for an intense drama or a college romance
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Piyush Rohankar’s A Pleasant Escape using the link below.