I am always wary of reading a debut novel. Not because of maybe not liking it, but also because of the effort put in by the writer, which I may not be able to see or gauge and for the right reasons alone – I am not close to the book at that point. But then when the effort is put by a reader, then the entire reading experience changes. You feel for the book. You feel for the author, for the characters and the plot. Every word then is analysed and mulled about and given great thought to. “The Smoke is Rising” by Mahesh Rao made me do that to a large extent.
It is the future. India has got it all. It is almost the year 2008. India’s first spacecraft has been launched to the moon. The country is full of vigour and vim. Everyone wants to move ahead. Technology has set out a new path for the country and a small city like Mysore will not be left behind. It is gearing for its own greatness by building Asia’s greatest theme park – Heritage Land (I love the play and satire of words that shines throughout the book). The people of the city see the city transform instantly and for some of them it will not be easy getting back to the way things were. This in short is the plot of the book. I am not going to give away more than this.
Now to the writing. To begin with, you will not feel that the book is the debut novel of the writer. The satire is biting. The humour is wry. Mahesh’s writing is direct, which I loved the most. There are no round-about turns here. The story is as it is – and what I loved the most, is the subtle jab on the ever-changing world and how the world gone by just waits and gets lost.
I guess I could connect a lot more to the book than I thought I would. “The Smoke is Rising” speaks of changes, of times moving on and somewhere down the line, while we all have somehow gotten used to the world that has changed, we still perhaps want to cling on to what has been left behind. The book resonated deep within me and I will of course reread it, but for now, I will let it be. I will maybe go back and remember a life that was simple, as the characters of this brilliant debut.