I still remember devouring my Enid Blytons while growing up in a boarding school at Nainital. There was a certain commonality we found with the antics of the Famous Five, those agile yet wicked kids. There are two types of people in the world: those who've been to boarding schools and those who haven't. For the former, life becomes special and challenging, and is about humanity in more ways than one.
Which is why Arjun Rao's Third Best is so refreshing. The school, Shore Mountain, is a co-educational institution, a cross between Doon School and Welhams. It is about the lives of three young men who enter that school: one on the back of generational presence, the other obsessed with 'edible goods', and the third focused on women, more critically, at getting into their pants.
Rao excels in recreating the wafts and weaves of life at a boarding school. The characters are wonderfully etched, none of them being tiresome stereotypes. The book provokes you to race through the pages. Clearly, this was a plot meant for a play or a film but finds its home in a book.
The use of everyday language, including the liberal use of expletives as well as the manner of speech, captures the geographical breadth of any boarding school. So what we 'hear' in Third Best is a multitude of accents, with the mood of the moment captured with care. Rao's book delivers more than what you would expect from a debutant author.
Suhel Seth is CEO of Counselage, a Delhi-based brand and marketing consultancy