Publisher: Random House India
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When I first picked up this book, I but naturally assumed that as the title suggests ‘Serendipity’ would be all about chance happenings; little did I know that my misconception was soon to be countered.
As per habit, I casually flipped the book over to read the synopsis, and there it was in the first paragraph itself… “Shifting between London and Sri Lanka and set in the 1980’s, when the twenty-six year civil war had only just begun, Serendipity is part satire, part thriller, part comedy of manners”. Only after a few chapters later was I to learn that serendipity is actually the name of a house in Colombo’s cinnamon gardens and has nothing to do with chanced encounters.
Ashok Ferrey begins the plot with a ‘Boom’… literally! An explosion – untimed, unannounced, unexplained! Followed by a scene shifting to London, where we are introduced to the female protagonist of the novel – Piyumi, a half Tamil, half Sinhalese barrister, who is extremely overjoyed at the opportunity of being the heir to a cultural heritage in Sri Lanka, a part of ‘Serendipity’; and she takes it in her stride to reclaim what is rightfully hers!
Focus shifts to another character – Marek, a Polish builder who accidently crosses path with Piyumi in London and follows her all the way to Sri Lanka, to try and make her fall in love with him. The next character we meet is Viraj, an ambitious gym instructor in Sri Lanka, who aspires of living the foreign dream; followed by Debs, a homosexual NGO worker and the centre of Viraj’s fancy.
Although the characters each have a solid individual personality, as a whole, they fall flat when combined. The plot to me seemed like a typical Hindi film, with the only aspect of tid-bits of Sri Lankan lingo differentiating it otherwise. The entire plot has a lot of loose ends, leaving the reader unsatisfied with the way thing progress. Incidents are left unjustified and linking of the very same incidents is done in a very clumsy manner.
The biggest argument that I have with this story is that it loses focus from its central plot (supposedly supposed to be Piyumi & Marek’s love story) trying to discuss varied issues. From ‘nefarious’ political campaigns, to obtuse neighbours, from social discriminations to love triangles, Piyumi has to face it all, and so does the reader. The author takes us on an eventful journey, where every occurrence seems to be on the spur of the moment, but after turning and tossing through a few more pages, prove to be a schematically organized trap, with ulterior motives and cunning innuendos!
Characters like Mr. Skanda and Lenin Marx Siddhu (the name sounds peculiar) add garnishing to the soup, creating an intriguing aura around the entire plot, giving it the desired amount of mystery; an aspect that kept me reading till the end, only to discover that the only thing that would differentiate this book from a Bollywood flick, is its climax!
This book is one of the few to rouse mixed emotions within my mind! I simply could not decide whether to sympathize with the naiveté of Marek, to fume at Debs audacity, to share Viraj’s isolation or to praise Piyumi’s determination. Not to forget the political leaders and the boisterous elections campaignings, which end up over powering the entire romance in the plot!
A lesson that the author successfully manages to relay is that no matter where we live, no matter which social strata we belong to and no matter how much we try to cut down on the caste and racial discrimination, being a human being we are all endowed with prejudiced notions and perceptions, a what-not-to-do rulebook created by the moral and social obligations to society, one, that enormously effect our decisions.
In the end, all I could conclude was that Serendipity doesn’t always mean ‘by chance’… because when you split the word, you get calm compassion (‘serene’ – di – ‘pity’)!