Well, I happened to visit the City Center Mall in Kolkata last week, entirely by accident. Or you can say that it was a fortuitous visit. But this post is not about my visit. Rather it’s about one of the books which I picked up from a small book store called the Book Cellar. As you may have figured it out from the heading, the book is titled ‘Johnny Gone Down’ and its written by an amateur [is he really one?] author by the name of Karan Bajaj. Rings a bell? Maybe, if you have read an earlier novel by the name of ‘Keep off the Grass’[his only other major work, JGD being his second novel], or maybe if you are associated with Kraft Foods[for that is exactly where the author works]. The novel has already become a best-seller in the Indian market, and that forced me [A Certified Bookworm] to find out why.
Finally, after avoiding and slithering in between inseparable couples who do not hesitate in performing PDA acts, I managed to find myself a cozy corner, and dug into the book[Obviously not literally]. Before I begin the book, let me say that Karan Bajaj is another of those Young-generation Indian authors writing in English, who have taken the world[or at least Indian youngsters] by storm. Yet another IIMian[From IIM Bangalore], his book obviously draws comparison with Chetan Bhagat’s works. Though both of their works are fast-paced, trendy pieces of prose, the similarity ends there. Bhagat is more interested in highlighting social and national problems whereas Bajaj tries to tell us just how badly things can go wrong if we choose the wrong path. Anyways, this isn’t a Bajaj Vs. Bhagat post, so I might as well begin the review before you click on some other hyperlink.
Quoting one line from the Back Page synopsis, just to give you a general idea: ‘An innocent vacation turned into an epic intercontinental journey that saw Nikhil become first a genocide survivor, then a Buddhist monk, a drug lord, a homeless accountant, a software mogul and a deadly game fighter.’ Sounds rather confusing, is it? A hotchpotch of events which apparently make little sense to the general reader. So we have a protagonist called Nikhil, who is also known by a stream of other names: Monk Namche, Coke Buddha, Nick and finally Johnny. He travels across various countries, meets not-so-harmless people and makes a mess of his life. What’s so great about this abstruse storyline, you may ask. Let us go a bit deeper into the story and try to find out.
If you consider the different events [The Book is divided into parts separating the main events] as individual occurrences then it might seem that they are describing different persons rather than the same lonely hero. But as one reaches the end of the book, he/she realizes that those events are all inter-connected, and form bits of a pattern, which might seem non-existent or quite subtle at first. But slowly the pieces begin to unravel themselves, and we are left gasping with awe. Such is the impact of this 311 page novel. It makes the life of a normal, common Indian man look like that of a Hollywood film flick. True, this book has its share of co-incidences and fancy outings, but then it’s a work of fiction after all, and we all know that Sugar and Spice makes a Fiction novel seem really nice.
But the best thing about this book is that it’s different. And largely original, though the author claims that he has been inspired by several movies, books and his own personal adventures while he breathed life into Nikhil Arya. For starters, how many heroes lose their hand within the first 100 pages of the novel? Okay, not many. Then, how many Buddhist monks[the actual ones and not Quacks in disguise] do you see in the Drug distribution business? Sounds weird? Wait, it gets even better. Why should a drug lord who is earning millions of dollars every year, leave everything, go to the USA and become a Homeless accountant who shares his place with drug addicts? Plus why does Nikhil suddenly dive into Software and end up as a Shooter who plays a deadly game which could end his life within seconds? Is he fed up of life or with himself? Does he blame himself for the pain he has caused to numerous other people including his wife, or is it the fault of the World which was too cruel on him. Or is it just another trick of God, where the entire Universe is just an illusion and the Universal Truth is that All Life is Dukha [suffering, as preached by Buddha]. The Ultimate Aim of life is Nirvana. Or is it indulging in material pleasures, wealth, drugs, casual sex, revolver duels, software codes and virtual lives? Nikhil has to find that out before it’s too late. Before he ends up hurting everybody who has ever been close to him. And the only place which can give him true redemption is the land of sages and spiritualism, India.
The story is mesmerizing; the pace is fast and the action plentiful. And that’s not the only reason why you should read this novel. It has its own share of tragedy [in fact lots of it] and also wicked humor, dark at times and inspiring at others. You will feel that you can closely relate yourself to Nikhil’s character, someone whose life has gone totally out of control, who wants to get out of this maze, but is unable to do so. One thing leads to the next, and he is unable to break free. He feels deserted, helpless and lost. He blames himself for taking the wrong decisions. But at the same time, life is not just about facing misfortunes. It is surviving in the midst of a crisis, and having the courage to move on. The best point that the author makes is that Kindness, just like corruption and sadism, is Universal. No matter where you go, whichever country you are at, there will always be someone to help you and guide you. That’s something which goes beyond the language and culture barrier. This point has been highlighted quite well. Moreover, the climax and the ending are very inspiring and motivational. There is suspense in every page. The reader is forced to keep reading till he completes the novel, it’s that addictive, and thrilling.
Will Johnny Make it? Or is he going down for good this time? But will even death give him renunciation? Read the book to find out. You may like the book or you may hate it, but you will definitely learn something new out of this novel. A lesson in life which is worth knowing. And if you are an aimless person, miserable with the way things have been going on with you, desiring change with hopeless pessimism, then you are surely going to love this book. Try to grasp the inner meaning of this novel, and you will enjoy it even more, rather than simply treating it as a work of fiction.
Karan Bajaj has done an excellent job, and the fact that he has visited all the places which he writes about in his book, makes the story feel even more authentic and crisp. And the best part is that the book costs just a paltry Rs. 99, definitely a steal for any book lover. If you still don’t feel that you should get this book, then maybe you can go and practice shooting with a revolver instead. A toy one of course, you do not want to spend your time in prison[like Nikhil did] do you?
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