When "When Strangers Meet.." reached me, I tucked into the familiar smell of new books, and was surprised by its weightlessness. A compact and light book, easy to hide behind practical files in exam time to hide from mum ;)
The story begins with Jai, a rebellious Gurgaon teenager who wants to be an animator and an actor, and is oppressed by an ambitious father, a mathematics professor himself, who wants him to become an engineer, despite Jai's lousy grades. The first part of the novel reveals the strained relationship shared by Jai and his father, the volatile verbal volleys, and the weak peace-maker mother. Jai's retorts are hot and stingy, with a mouthful of swears and characerized by the typical urban teen "lingo". The father's behavior borders on crazy, with his obsession over Jai's engineering, and speeding up on the highways to make Jai bow down. The reader feels sympathetic to the boy. And when Jai decides to tun away, it's almost understandable.
But then fate has something else in store. The Delhi Metro plays a capricious goddess and hinders Jai's first phase of his escape to Mumbai, the city of struggling actors. Stranded on the station, he meets a "stranger", a good-natured, pot-bellied, and slightly irritating Madrasi by the name of Iyer, who is intent on striking up a conversation and narrates his own life story, which is the second part of the novel.
The story has now shifted from the Delhi-Gurgaon urban landscape to the warm, humid and sandy environs of Chennai and Tuticorin. This is when the the story picks up a good pace, and the reader nestles into the comfortable breezes that are Iyer's life story. K Hari Kumar's writing in this part of the novel is indeed delicious, as the reader becomes Iyer through out the narrative, experiencing the highs of the teen years, nursing impossible dreams and fantasies, taking on a mathematician father in a very public tiff, swearing to only return to burn the father's dead body, running away from home to make a name for himself, with a touch of a sweet romance that once was. Tears of sadness were shed when Iyer's dreams crash, and then tears of joy for him when he rebuilds his life. Iyer's longing for home, his new found love and respect for his father, and the fear of returning lest the death curse uttered during their fight come true... it's almost heart breaking.
Jai realizes that his story and circumstances are exactly the same as Iyer's, whose father went on a downward spiral ever since he ran away, and is now lying on his death bed. Jai is jolted back into reality and begins understanding his own father, along with the realization that he still has a chance to go back home and prevent the worst from coming. However, Jai's return back home and Iyer's disappearance from Jai's life was surprising, and contained an "unworldly" element, which gives the story an interesting turn at the end. The last of the three characters, the humble and poor Pathan, did not prove to be integral to the story. I wish the treatment of this particular character was far more detailed as he had seemed very promising in the beginning and would have given the novel a whole new dimension indeed.
"When Strangers Meet.." by K Hari Kumar, is a light hearted drama with a bit of suspense in the end. Priced at Rs 100, it's a warm hearted coming-of-age story. The title not only stresses the turn Jai's life takes when he meets a stanger, but also how Jai and his father, who were till now strangers to each other, finally "meet" and begin understanding each other. Spiced up with details of city life of Delhi and Chennai, with the characters spending a lot of time in our beloved Metro, the good pace of the story and the weightlessness of the book makes it an ideal read while commuting in the Metro ;)
Title : When Strangers Meet..
Publisher: Srishti Publishers & Distributors
Published: May 2013