Book Review: Like a Bird on the Wire by Chhavi Bhardwaj

Book Name: Like a Bird on the Wire

Author: Chhavi Bhardwaj

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Amaryllis

Rating: 4.4/5

Book Blurb: Nethra Kaul is sharp, efficient, beautiful and single. A quintessential “good girl”, she believes in doing the ‘right thing’, always. Only, her life isn’t all that right. A broken heart? Check. Misfit at work? Double-check. Hopeless romanticism? Not enough checks in the world!
Avinash Rathore, her batchmate from the IAS, is the man she had loved and wanted, very much. Avinash is a high-flyer and his life looks picture perfect at the moment – a soaring career, a lovely wife and a beautiful child.
What more could he possibly want?
What more, other than the intense, sublime love that had once blossomed in the salubrious environs of Mussoorie, where Nethra and Avinash had trained as probationers?
The tentacles of fate are closing in fast as Nethra and Avinash come together, one more time, for something that will prove to be as disastrous as it is enticing.
How will Avinash get trapped in a labyrinth spawned out of animosity?
Does a woman need a man in her life to feel complete?
Will Nethra find solace, will she find love?

Review: Like a Bird on the Wire is primarily about the theme of unrequited love. Unrequited love makes for much grand love stories than the ones that have a more positive and logical outcome. There is really no point in writing about a love story that ends in marriage- for it becomes boring and predictable. So the author in essence has got this bit right; this is the appeal of this book and it doesn’t let you down!

The main plot revolves around two protagonists Nethra and Avinash, batch mates at LBSNNA (Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration) and with some peripheral characters (fellow IAS officers, wives etc.). The two become friends with some feelings between the two but not well reciprocated by the male counterpart. In between, we get glimpses of life at the academy, how the bureaucrats are trained and the political pressure and scheming which is a part and parcel of a government servant’s life. It is not explained why Nethra, an accomplished woman and an equal is so smitten by another fellow IAS who doesn’t really come across as extraordinary. He does win a coveted award in the opening pages but that alone doesn’t make him a brilliant mind or would explain the devotion that he gets from Nethra. There are other such similar plot-holes that should have been closed.

Th author’s language skills are ordinary but there are occasional words of wisdom and some deliberate sarcasm that makes this book rise above the level of other fiction novels that are mushrooming in India today.

“This is a fact. Take it or leave it. The matrimony market does its own price discovery. The market value of a boy freshly recruited into service soars, that of a girl falls freely.”

The footnotes explain some of the intricate jargon associated with government bureaucracy and occasionally makes room for some wit too-

“Chivalry-an old world quality-now mostly found in females.”

So the book gives you a good insight into the life of a government bureaucrat, it also explains why its so tough for women in the service and how marriage brings more comfort for the man while complexities for the woman. Malavika’s musings on marriage are eye-opening and very interesting. Nethra chooses to spurn offers from eligible bachelors and later becomes best friend’s with Avinash’s wife. There is a twist at the end that sort of completes the circle and ends the book. The ending won’t disappoint.

The book has everything going for it and after Upamanyu Chatterjee’s magnum opus “English August” that I read as a child, there aren’t many books that delve into a government servant’s complicated life. No job is as rosy as it sounds but a bureaucrat’s job is the toughest. The author must be lauded for the effort, its sincere and makes for a good read.

The fundamental flaw in this book is perhaps that it comes across as a sort of disjointed sections about the lives of different government servants rather than a complete book. So you have chapters about Mrityunjay, another officer and his trials which just makes the narration harrowing and complex while adding nothing much to the main plot. It would have been a better idea to concentrate on the two main protagonists as that is a much better story. Nevertheless, its a great read, its about something that you don’t often get in fiction and you will surely end up enriched. The author appears to be well read and literary references though infrequent make the narrative more interesting. So this book has a little of everything but no ‘X’ factor.

But in the end, it will leave you thinking, will hang onto you even days after you have read it. You may end up debating if its fiction? And if an author can manage this, then the job is well done and the author may well perhaps enjoy a slightly longer literary career.

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