Author: Neeraj Chhibba
Publisher: Rupa publications
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As a brilliant young boy Pankaj never imagines that he will ever be swamped with problems. Life with his friends Motu and Priya is fun. Always destined to go to IIT, a cruel incident makes him end up in a place he has never heard of before, Volgograd - a Russian 'City of heroes'. Zero percentile is a heady cocktail of the fascinating adventures of Pankaj, a less flavored son of destiny, across two completely different countries, India and Russia.
I am glad someone took an initiative to write a book about people who try their level best to get into IIT but don't succeed for some reason. There is also an equally pertinent issue about the exposure of young people from India into a drastically different booze-babes-BJs ridden culture and the subsequent ramifications on their personality. It can be a very depressing and life altering event for such individuals and if done well, can make up for engrossing read. Luckily, Zero percentile quite achieves in that sphere of writing with some witty, charming and cunning moments.
Having lived in Russia for close to 7 years, the author is well versed with the kind of environment he is leading us into and the detailing of the hostel life is endearing. The book's basic plot remains faithful to the blueprint of your coming-of-age story, but the screenplay is bursting at its seam with numerous tricks to keep you on your toes. So we have an head-master who can do anything for your grades to earn quick money, a sex-addict friend who don't think twice before sleeping with any Russian chick he can lay his hands, an old couple who treats Pankaj as their own child and a bisexual girlfriend who ditches him for another girl even when he is busy making plans to convince his parents to marry her.
Relying on some keen observations about the life of the good-bad-ugly side of Russia, the writer explores the personality of every possible individual from various strata of society associated with the college. Almost all the characters are grey here, full of flaws specially when it came to the portrayal of those involved with the local mafia gang. With elements of hope, sex, violence, campus gangs and revenge, it offers almost all the pot-boiler moments of a Bollywood film. I particularly liked the sub-plot of role reversal of lives of Motu and Pankaj at various points in the narrative, it is ironical and humorous in equal mix.
The book is not free of flaws, there are some clichés which could have been easily avoided. In the end, they just add to the length of the book. The pun intended on the fascination with male child is hilarious in the first part of the book, though a tad over-stretched. The whole quizzing competition even though riveting is lengthy because the bond between the three friends has already been established sufficiently. The last act of getting back to Priya is done so conveniently that it looks contrived, emotionless and reeks of bizarreness to say the least. However, keeping in mind that the author is penning down its sequel, it may not turn out to be such a farce. The blurb of the book is too long as it gives away all the major twists and turns in the narrative, which is quite preposterous for me. I want to explore them, not just read at the back of the book.
But these are small nitpicking's in an otherwise engaging masala book which provides a good time pass read on a lazy day. I am going with 3/5 for Neeraj Chhibba's first book, Zero Percentile. Even though it is quite predictable in parts, it covers up by some smart writing. It is set in a new world, and has a bunch of wonderful moments. It delivers more than it promises. Sometimes, that's all you want from a book!