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An insider's view of the Outsider

Jet City Woman is a tale about choosing between two cities - Delhi and Shillong - and two kinds of lives, writes Elizabeth Kuruvilla.

books Updated: May 21, 2012 15:12 IST

Jet City Woman


: Ankush Saikia


: Rupa


: 195

This is a tale about choosing between two cities - Delhi and Shillong - and two kinds of lives. And linking the 'mainland' and the North-east is a sense of alienation. It's a story about why one feels alienated. Is it because you don't - won't - fit in, or because 'they' won't allow you in? A part-Shillong boy himself, Ankush Saikia's debut novel has many such questions, but few satisfying answers.

College life in Delhi for Saikia's protagonist mirrors the small town existence he had left behind. He shares a sparsely-furnished, two-room apartment with three other boys who've arrived from the North-east with equally unclear expectations from the city, all of them half-heartedly pursuing some course or the other in the hope that it will lead them somewhere. Evenings are spent as aimlessly at home, drinking cheap whisky with his roommates, and occasionally a few others from 'up north'.

He makes a backdoor entry into 'jet city' life - at the same time, becoming the envy of his friends when he rescues Naina, a "cool chick" who likes to "hang out with chinkies", from a bullying exboyfriend, and they end up having a short but intense affair. His chance encounter with her at a five-star hotel two years later-- he's now a bored sub at an online newspaper and she's a popular TV anchor, whose mercurial charm has taken her places, including into the arms of an Afghan coke dealer - reawakens in him both an excitement he's not felt in a long time, as well as confusion about where he's headed.

Naina and Delhi hold the same allure. They are both enticing, holding forth the promise of something better. They are also mysterious, holding back on that vital link that would really 'include' him in their lives. Would he be admitting to failure if, like his college friends, he went back to Shillong, a place where he does not have to try to fit in, to a girl who may not be exciting like Naina, but at least is comforting in her familiarity?

Saikia's novel falters because of his amateurish writing style. If only publishers would realise that they should be in the race to produce the most number of good books, not just the most number of books.