Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Author: Aseem Vadehra
Total Pages: 171
Total approximate words: 62,073
I started reading this book a long time ago, perhaps a couple of years ago. But never finished it. In fact, never even read from the first chapter. Just randomly picked up one story and left it even before finishing it. When I picked it up again, after years of abandonment in the book shelve, the familiar feeling of reluctance crept in, and for a moment I hesitated to commit, to read it at one go, and not just leave it because one of its pages was boring. So, I dared. I use the word ‘dared’ because commitment to read a book from start to finish at one go and completely letting go of the temptation to pick a side book, is a big deal for me. It is almost like a promise of undivided attention to the book by the reader, to be with it, throughout its journey from the beginning to the end, no matter what. Read on to know, if it was worth the commitment, and if you should think about making one, with this one here at least!
“A chance at happiness”, is a collection of 17 short stories. The stories have different narration styles, but the core writing style is similar, of course. For example, certain chapters have the protagonist as the narrator, and in others, the narration is in third person. Every story has a different plot, obviously, but the characterization in each is similar to an extent. For example, almost all the stories happen in one city; most of the protagonists have similar wants, desires, and regrets, come from similar background (wealthy businessman), is attracted towards female in one particular way, is miserable in his life in one way or the other. A brief about the stories below:
1. Mr. Alexander
The protagonist Akshay, is a self-made man, who happens to meet his school teacher, Mr Alexander, and his mind goes back to his schooldays.
The narrator is in love with the girl of his dreams, Tara, but his table tennis practice introduced him to his partner’s sister Pallavi, who is attracted to him. The two make out a couple of times, but Pallavi’s brother Ishan spill the beans to Tara. A heartbroken Tara eventually moves on and gets married to her drama school partner Shiv.
3. A Chance at Happiness
Amit is a school going kid, and is from a wealthy family. He is sexually abused by one of the male servants at his house, who later is diagnosed with HIV, and is subsequently kicked out. Amit lives with fear for twelve years, before he gets the courage to actually do a test for himself. The test declares him HIV negative, but the thought of all those years, reminded him of how strangely, he enjoyed bits and pieces of it.
4. A Date in Paharganj
Ankit is a spoiled brat from a wealthy family, and is working with his father in the family business. On his flight from Chennai to Delhi, he meets Annalisa, an Italian tourist, and tries to impress her with his fake American accent. When Ankit offers to drop her to her booked hotel room in Paharganj, she invites him for lunch the next day as a thank you gesture. Ankit gets his hopes high, and the two end up making love a week before Ankit’s arranged marriage. When Ankit’s father comes to know about it, he fires the driver for taking him to Annalisa’s address.
The narrator is secretly in love with his best friend’s wife, and when the wife plays a game of questions about how well the spouses know each other, she is disappointed at both her husband, and his best friend, the narrator.
6. The Company
Aman is trying to grow his family business after his father’s demise, but one visit from the Income tax officials, rob him from a fortune of money.
Payal and Kapil are married for four years, but despite having a lavish lifestyle, Payal feels lonely, as apparently he is not the same guy that she fell for. Dressed up in their expensive attires, the couple go to a lavish party, where Kapil gets busy with others, leaving Payal on her own. While having drinks in the bar, she meets Gautam, Kapil’s friend and they make out in a secluded corner of the farmhouse.
The narrator Aditya, goes to a lavish Diwali party where he meets with an average looking woman and feels attracted towards her. As the two decide to go to a more isolated part of the party, he gets too close to Deepa and tries to kiss her, and is taken aback when she doesn’t reciprocate it.
9. At the Eye Doctor
The narrator, with his loving wife visits an Ophthalmologist. While waiting for his turn, he rests his head on his wife’s shoulder, and thanks his lucky stars to bless him with a wife like her. On sudden appearance of the wife’s ex-fiancé, he feels a hint of uneasiness and slight change in his wife’s composure. Instead of waiting further for his turn, he tells the staff that he will visit later, and leaves the clinic with his wife.
10. In Bombay
The protagonist architect, is an asexual who is incapable of falling in love with any gender. As he flies to Bombay to his best friend’s party, the company of a woman, over a moonlit night, makes him wonder, if that is what love felt like. Unfortunately for him, he would never know.
11. Karan and Maneck
Karan, a wealthy businessman endures the grief of loosing his closest friend in a car accident. He lovingly goes back to the days of their first meet and the bountiful days after.
12. A Highway Deal
The narrator is an established businessman who drives down to Ludhiana for work. On the way back, his site manager, Prakash Negi, accompanies him. During the drive on the highway, their car hits a passer-by who dies on the spot. With minor damage in the car, the duo makes a run from the scene on the site manager’s advice. From the next day onwards, Negi starts blackmailing the narrator for a hefty amount of 5 lakhs a month for the rest of his life, eventually costing him his marriage and the company.
13. Nitin and I
Two friends have the time of their life in a bar, where they take rounds of a girl in blue, with silicon tits, and long legs. Eventually the girl’s boyfriend starts shooting and two bullets hit the friends. The following events happen in slow motion, until the two leave the bar and take a taxi to the nearest hospital.
14. A Fine Provenance
Siddharth, son of a wealthy art dealer travels to London, to finalize a deal for an original art piece from its owner, an old English couple. Through the deal he experiences the warm hospitality of the friendly couple who assumed that the piece of art would go to another collector and not to a dealer.
15. A Contract of Dreams
Kunal, the son of yet another wealthy businessman, is all set to take the contract for a big project. After the lengthy meeting and his constant regret about not being able to follow his dream of being a film maker, he finally bags the contract from the stingy client. As the meeting finishes, and everyone leaves the room, he tells the project director of his company, that the stingy budget of their clients have left them with no other option other than to cut cost by getting cheaper labor.
16. The House
Gautam and Prateek have been friends from high school, and for the construction of his forty thousand square feet mansion, Gautam gives the contract to Prateek. But when Gautam invites Prateek for a party with cocaine and strippers, and encourages him to have sex with one of the females, he leaves the party. After that incident, Gautam holds his payment until Prateek invites himself over for a similar party like before. To mix in the crowd and hoping that Gautam will release the payment, Prateek cheats on his wife with one of the females in the party.
17. Thirty Seconds
Aditya who has just stepped in his thirties, and is recovering from a heart break, falls for a ‘real life fairy’ who is only visible to him. They have short but interesting meet ups until one day she doesn’t show up anymore.
What I liked about the book?
Short stories. A different perspective. All the stories have the central character of men. Even as a victim, in certain stories, which was like a fresh perspective, considering usually ‘the woman’ is the ‘victim’. Certain characters stood out, like the asexual architect, who felt everything in detail, yet did not feel love. The average lines are longer in the narration, much different than the usual ‘short sentences’ used in most fictions. The length of the sentences, weaving the details of a scene or of the character’s mind, made them kind of lyrical.
What I didn’t like about the book?
Mediocre plot, and monotonous characters. The protagonist in most of the stories have similar characterization, wealthy, mostly not happy for some reason, wanting something different than what they already had. Also, almost all the stories happen in the same city, Delhi.
This book is not the best work of Aseem Vadehra, but I am hoping he writes more and creates his best work. The writing, in some sense has finesse and reminds of authors like Jhumpa Lahiri. A huge lot of Indian fiction books lacks this quality, which is a must for a rich writing. Majorly because, we are not native English speakers. If you like indulging exclusively in good writing, and by that I mean only the style, including the length of the sentences, the words used, the patience in describing a scene or a character’s intentions, all of that, despite not necessarily having a very strong story line, then this book is a gem. I may or may not read this same book again, but I would definitely read Aseem Vadehra's other books (if there are any). Ratings would be a 6/10.
Ease of reading: 7/10
Character/ Plot building: 6/10
World Building: 6/10
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This review is based on my personal reading of the book and understanding it with my own limited experiences. This review is just a singular perspective and not the only one.