"Amreeka is how real Punjabis pronounce 'America'" says Atulya Mahajan in his "Amreekandesi - Masters of America", a 310 page opus chronicling of the lives and times of a group of Indian students roughing it out it the US of A trying to make their dreams come true while describing life in America in general as well. Atulya has been phamous on the virtual World for a long time through his blog and on Twitter and Facebook, going under the name Amreekan Desi, and the book is his maiden attempt at (offline) storytelling involving real paper and ink. Being a US-return himself ("without a Green Card - shame on him!" as his Twitter bio once said :)), Atulya mentions in his Acknowledgements that some incidents in the book are indeed based on his personal experiences and times in Amreeka. Masters of America is loads of fun with plenty of with and laughs and tells an engrossing and well-written story with an upbeat, flowing style of writing which will not bore you and will introduce you to plenty of characters who you can totally relate to :)
The Tale of the Masters of America (Storyline)
Amreekan Desi - Masters of America is the story of some Indian students who land up in the Florida State University of Tallahassee, FL, USA, to achieve their dreams. Akhil wants to study well, land a job, work for a few years and return to India, while Jassi wants to get laid and settle in America. It is their first time the young Indians are staying away from the sheltered life they have lived under the protective wings of their parents and the FOBs struggle to survive in America where everything is totally different from where they grew up. The young Indians push forward to achieve what they traveled half a World away for as they explore and experience America, go on roadtrips, get profoundly culture shocked, harassed and run into trouble in addition to cramming day and night. On the way, they form bonds, fall in love, get heartbroken, laugh, cry, share happiness, sorrow and tribulations as they bond with each other. They get acclimatized to American life and culture as they discover how many of their beliefs about the West are not really true and as they discover that America and the West in general is must different from what is shown in Hollywood movies. The FSU class of 2004 is fulled with characters of all types like the ones we remember from college.
Who are the Masters of America and what did they do?
- Akhil Arora Himself a dorky, somewhat lost and very average Punjabi lad living a very sheltered middle-class existence in Delhi, an everyday representative of most urban young men in India. He failed to make it to any IITs and settled for an engineering (EEE) degree from the University of Delhi. He is no loser but just an average nerd who is hardworking, observant and grounded for the most part and knows his goals. This might make him slightly boring and him look like a "Mama's boy" who also misses India terribly. He meets Nandita on the plane and falls in love with her
- Jaspreet Singh aka Jassi from Jalandhar, Punjab considers himself as the coolest and hunkiest guy around despite having a 36" waistline. He is totally in love with Amreeka and it has been his lifelong dream to go to the promising land of Coca-Cola, hot girls led by Pamelaji (Anderson) and general awesomeness as featured in F.R.I.E.N.D.S and the American Pie series. He lives in a delusional fantasy World where American women swoon over him and has made it his mission to get laid as soon as possible. But his plans do not work out well as blunders himself into a series of misadventures, some of which end badly.
- Nandita is the daughter of a famous Bengali author. She is Akhil's closest friend ever since they got seated on a plane next to each other and who becomes is the love of choice for Akhil as it is evident from their first meeting. Would she accept him? Would their parents (Punjabi vs Bengali?) Well, read on :)
- Priya (The shy girl from Chennai), Kedar (Akhil's and Jassi's roommate), Dilpreet (Senior and Akhil's mentor), Suresh and Venkat (roommates who introduce Akhil to America), Devika (Dilpreet's friend tired of her obsessive mother), Aparna (Akhil's scandalous classmate), Reshmi (Nandita's roommate), Anil (the dashing senior), Priyank (Ankit's obnoxious neighbor's son) and the Americans Nigel, Brad, Jim, Victoria and others.
The Short Book Review on Masters of America
I read someone commenting that Masters of America is a coffee table book. I disagree. Masters of America is your "read anywhere" book. Let us not make any bones here, the book is not a literary masterpiece, or is not a magnum opus. It is part of the new "easy-reading" literary wave sweeping India and Masters of America stands head and shoulders over most other contemporary literary works of its genre. This is thanks to its somewhat smooth flow of narration and the quality of Atulya's writing particularly with short sentences, descriptive premises and with "back-and-forth" dialogue kept to a minimum unlike most other books of the genre which seem to narrate a script instead of a story. The story is linear and uncomplicated, it does not lose focus and uses simple language for the most part which makes it great fun reading. The story is not headed to any surprising climax, as the premises will clearly tell us where the story is headed. This one is not to be read for the destination, but for the journey. And it is loads of fun on the way! Loded with one-liners, cliches and situational comedy, I had a ball reading it. There is love of course, but not more than is necessary. The only major gripe is that the story sidelines most other characters other than the three leads with some of them mentioned only once or twice and are not given enough time to develop on their own. but an ensemble cast would've made the story too complicated.
Snippets and Takeaways from the Masters of America
- The first chapters which take place in India are a riot. Various references to typical Indian characters like the obnoxious neighbor Goyalji, the overprotective and doting Mr & Mrs. Arora, Jassi trying to making himself familiar with American ways and Pamelaji, the "Indian" ways of packing a store's worth of groceries while going abroad, swooning neighbors and their demands, marriage plans and more all are described in hilarious detail with loads of funny cliches thrown in.
- Jassi's escapades form some of the best parts of the book, and his character is one that refuses to leave my head. Maybe because I can relate to him :)
- The story is filled with many things Indian, on how Indians can be many types even while abroad and how some assimilate and most don't. The book is full of references to Indian culture and how it is different from American and how they are shocked by it, like when the students go to a wet t-shirt contest and turn away in disgust (I wouldn't have :)).
- Almost all parts of "Indianism" you see in NRIs find a mention in the story like converting Dollars into Rupees, cheap cars and recovered furniture, numerous mentions of Cricket and Bollywood, frozen foods from Indian stores, rants on culture, parents comparing their kids to others, the vast contrast of the West from the East, public littering etc.
- Some parts of the story might seem to go overboard and Bollywood-ish and the last few chapters are far from convincing.
- Akhil seems to be too much of a nice guy and Jassi the "wayward" one, but like the American Pie, everyone is happy in the end.
Masters of America - America in a Nutshell
Through the novel, Atulya accomplishes two things. He tells us the story of Akhil, Jassi, Nandita and others on one side while also giving us a vivid, first-hand description of everything America through "narrative" anecdotes. Through the characters' eyes, he tells us how life flows in the USA, how things work there, how the roads and traffic is awesome, how things are much ordered, calmer and better managed and how the place itself sees, feels, sounds and smells better. He also tells us how the people in the West are different from people in India in terms of attitude, culture, outlook, habits, food, relationships, academics, professions and general way of life. He also shatters many (mis)conceptions people in India have about Americans, that people there do not have family lives and that they do not love their children and leave them to fend for themselves (and the other way around) being one of them. Through his characters he also shows us the ugly side of America with all the xenophobia, ignorance and swindling that exists there. Also included is a short anecdote on the two types of Indians in America, ABCDs and FOBs.
Should you read it? Yes, you should! It is good fun and a steal at the price! Buy it here from Flipkart for Rs.159