The Price You Pay by Somnath Batabyal
The author is a journalist with over a decade’s experience, followed by a belated entry into Academics in London. He is currently emploted at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and can be found on http://somnathbatabyal.com. This is his 2nd book and his first fiction venture,.
The plot, which initially – from its back cover – seems a human life story much along the lines of Jeffrey Archer, metamorphoses rapidly into a different genre entirely. You take a ringside seat in the life and experiences of a young but confident man Abhishek Dutta as he makes his way first into print journalism and from there into TV journalism. A combination of contacts, guts and cheek land him his first assignment and his first job, from where he picks up the skills and trade secrets of a crime reporter. The young man, who is a fast learner, soon makes a mark for himself – again, due to his contacts. cheek and guts thrown alongside a dollop of luck. You are on an unstoppable roller coaster ride, as you are taken deep into the mysterious world of journalism, and the crossroads of rampant crime, naked ambition, remorseless power play and public service.
This is one guy who can recognise an opportunity for what it is, and make it tick! The enterprising young fighter soon understands that there is no free lunch in this brutal dog-eat-dog world, and rolls with the punches, avoiding some and making good use of chances and sheer guts. To his credit, he does not run, and takes it as it comes – which stands him in good stead. Eventually, he gets picked up as a TV journalist – where again, he finds that the same rules apply. You get used, and you have to learn fast in order to avoid getting used… and somehow, one has to find ones own way around one and all. The various people who come into Abhishek’s life, like Amir, or Uday Kumar, Mayank Sharma or Samir Saxena all gel well into the overall plot as they shape the future of Abhishek Dutta, providing knocks or support – or, as in the case of Mayank, even a lifelong friendship – which itself has interesting implications given that Mayank is a rising star in the police forces
This is a superb book – quite literally, unputdownable. For a debut novel, it is awesome. One of the best debut novels I have read in a long, very long time. The pace is relentless – which is a marvel, as the genre is not one which lends itself to rapid pace. The plot is plausible, and entirely feasible in the real world, That is the clincher. While in the plot I have focussed only on 1 character – Abhishek, there are others apart from the frontispiece and his main supporting cast – people like Babloo Shankar -who makes his presence felt not by the pages he fills, but by sheer force of reputation and history as told through the mouths of the other characters. The character building is decent and functional, and you gel with each character.Most critical is the fact that each character has a ring of believability about him or her. and you can readliy spot similar people in you real life.
What makes the book so interesting is not just its pace, but its storyline and backdrop, which is unique. You are taken deep into the world of journalism, and that is in itself a treat – as well as a refreshing change from spy thrillers and police whodunits. This is where Indian Fiction is scoring – Indian Authors are nowadays broaching untreaded lines and environs, and carving a unique identity for themselves. The present book is one such, which is different, refreshing and unique.
It is not a life story; it is a fast-paced thriller based on the rapid rise of the main protagonist, who uses chances, knocks, opportunities, chutzpah and presence of mind to grow. Integrally woven into his rise is the backdrop of organised crime, office politics, and falls and shocks. It is an adrenalin pumping ride through the corridors of news channels and newspapers, where real friends are rare, and one must have ready presence of mind, and common sense to survive. The backdrop of crime and politics add spice to what might have been a slow paced long-winded tale, and give it life.
All in all, The Price You Pay is well worth the price it makes you pa y for it; it is a fascinating read, takes you into a world you know little about – journalism – and glues you to its pages from the first to the last. The prose is simple and unpretentious, and easy to comprehend. It is a light and fast read – and is unique. The book – and its characters, especially Abhishek, stay with you in your memory long after you have put it down. And that is the acid test for any author – if the reader can recall the central character and his/her main traits days after putting the book down; the author has done his job magnificently well. And that is true in this case – I am pennning this review some 20 days after reading the book, and yet I can picturise Abhishek Dutta in my mind as clearly as if I had just read the book. This is one author whose next book I look forward to…