It isn’t every day that reviewers come across an architect-interior designer protagonist in a debut novel by an IIT/IIM graduate. Sriram Subramanian’s Rain establishes its distinctive features from the beginning. The fate of Jai Dubey, the hero, hangs on a major project, which his firm needs to finish to perfection within a tight deadline for him to be able to earn the bucks to build a dream house for his wife. This commitment to Sarika and her mother, Mallika, was recklessly announced during a heated argument. Jai wants to compensate for the sacrifices Sarika made when she married him. She lives with him in a small apartment, having relinquished her parents’ old, lavish home in the south of Pune. Jai’s resolve is further strengthened by Pandit Borkar, the esteemed family astrologer’s prediction of his doom by the end of the year.
The book blurb says, ‘Architect Jai Dubey trusts in reason – not in faith and prayer. When Fortune deserts Jai and his carefully ordered life spins inexorably out of control, he stands on the brink of ruin. Only a delayed monsoon can save Jai’s biggest project from disaster.…’ In this, the text is a tad misleading since it makes the reader believe the plot depends on the dark clouds looming over the horizon and their threat of disaster. Disaster does strike, and it does so pretty early on in the novel. It’s the result of Jai’s misplaced trust in old friend and business partner, Ravi, whose habit of cutting corners and rushing on with the job leads to the debacle and, consequently, Jai’s poverty. Even Sarika deserts him and returns to her family. Though these developments are foreshadowed in the book, the early climax leaves the reader wondering – what next?
Surprisingly, the hero’s quest is not to build that dream house but to rediscover and reinvent himself. To achieve that he has to first lose everything. Considering the book’s trajectory after the first climax, Subramanian has a great deal more to offer through complex plot and subplots – involving a dead younger brother (Sunny) and a potential mistress in the background. The narrative next moves to the spiritual realm: personal guilt, turning within for answers, evolution and redemption of the self; from luxury to poverty; from upper-class circles to living on the streets, engaging with ‘riff-raff’ and being sucked into their lives. It is here that the personal becomes political and themes ramify through various major and minor characters: Ashok, Sarika’s big brother – a political goon and the type of anti-hero Jai abhors; Iyer – the owner of Café Royale – in his short exchange with the bully officer in-charge demolishing his property as witnessed by Jai; Ashish Jagmohan of the Society Committee where Jai lives whom he constantly ignores; Raju the street urchin who shelters him during a crisis; Avinash Shinde, the corrupt policeman with an eye on Lakshmi, Raju’s mother; the political bigwigs who use unemployed youth like Raju and Chetan to achieve their own ends, amongst others. As Jai involves himself more in other people’s lives, his personal journey to true liberation begins.
Sriram Subramanian is good at drawing well-fleshed out characters and examining the big and small conflicts that keep the reader captivated throughout. His eye for detail is also worth mentioning, for that is what provides the book its realism. A couple of loose threads do remain at the end of the book – for instance, Jai’s take on his commitment to build Sarika the dream house, as well as her own thoughts and feelings on the matter; the significance of Sarika’s career and the purpose of her visit to Hamburg; the elusiveness of Saloni Singh and her importance in Jai’s life, etc. However, all these are minor distractions and do not really take away from the pleasure of reading an otherwise brilliant piece of work.
Divya Dubey is the publisher of Earthen Lamp Journal, the Editor/Instructor at Authorz Coracle, and the author of Turtle Dove: A Collection of Bizarre Tales.