Friday, April 22, 2011

Third Best by Arjun Rao: A Review

By John Cheeran
Making out was not a term in vogue when we went to a co-ed school. The Class of 1999 at Shore Mount, of course, has different priorities. Arjun Rao’s Third Best has plenty of stolen kisses, dreamy as well as cynical lovers, music, bullying, boxing and football. But it does not have a centre.
Third Best traces the life of a batch of schoolmates in Shore Mount, an imaginary co-ed public school meant for the progeny of the rich, upper middle class. It is an enjoyable first novel from Rao but I wonder how many of the characters will stay with the reader after she finishes the final page.
Every writer should not be burdened with expectations of tackling the great questions of his or her day. That would be pointless. Here Rao offers us a peek into a whole lot of youngsters (the class of 1999) but in the process he has failed to do justice to any one of them. Easily said, Third Best is the story of the coming of age of Nirvan Shrivastav, a shy, reluctant hero burdened with a family history of achievements at Mount.
Nirvan is in awe of his successful elder brother Moksh who is with him at the Mount, and his father and grandfather. The blossoming of Nirvan’s leadership qualities, grit and fidelity however fails to sweep you off your feet. Yes, Nirvan stands firm when bullied and beaten almost to death by Nanda and still does not rat on him. Nirvan, the quiet hero, reclaims his girlfriend Ruma from the boxing champion Nanda through a Bollywood kind of revenge but does not win over readers.
Among the many faces that make up Third Best --- Gautam, Nirvan, Ruma, Natasha, Bose, Zoya, Gomez ---, I was fascinated by Faraz the handsome. Girls, juniors and seniors, are always chasing him and asking him out on the dance floor but the guy falls for his teacher Zoya, living without her husband who is serving the Indian army in Nagaland. There was minimum of fuss in their mutual need and all that music that flows and enriches Third Best added warmth and poignancy to a foredoomed relationship.
Rao writes well but should have been persuaded by the editors to limit himself. At 376 pages, Third Best is an overwritten answer sheet.

(Arjun Rao studied in The Lawrence School in Lovedale and now teaches history in The Doon School, Dehradun.)


rohit said...

An enjoyable read Third Best by Arjun Rao . loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by "to read" list.

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