To effectively develop a novel that brings out the element of intrigue and that heart-pounding sensation, especially when it is a corporate thriller, is not an easy, cursive thing to do – not with the Indian corporate backdrop in consideration at least. Upendra Namburi, in his debut novel 31, has attempted to draw the scenario of the Indian banking industry during the arduous and much-dreaded month of March, which marks the end of the fiscal year.
Being a first-person narrative, a daily account of the thirty-one days is given to us by Ravi Shastry who heads the Bangalore branch of Imperial Bank. Under immense pressure of achieving the year-end targets of the multinational, Ravi and his team are working their limits off when a financial crisis strikes their Brazil division and a restructuring strategy throws the entire global banking industry out of bounds. Holding on to every last bit of what one has, the cut-throat rivalry within the organization takes a leap. Adding to it, Ravi’s marriage is falling apart while his wife Savitha also goes through a professional crisis. There is utter insecurity on the personal and professional front while an extramarital affair, fraud victimization, audit investigation, an unwanted pregnancy along with the chance of being unemployed at any moment engulfs Ravi and his family’s life, adding to their misery.
The originality of the author is reflected in his brilliant usage of time as a literary device. Every section begins with a calendar page showing the day of the month and within it, episodes and events are put together in random intervals of time as the day progresses. These time slots induce the feeling of a ticker set towards an impending doom with time running out. The plot builds around the whitewash, politics and mind games of CEOs with issues. Mysterious tweets and a Blackberry addiction adds to the suspense of the ongoing events. The domino effect of every rumour and every decision taken in the organization is seen within seconds and it affects the lives of every employee and his family. The fearful excitement stems from the irony that no one and everyone can be trusted. The anticipation and uncertainty take a shift from the characters to the reader which makes the book a page-turner.
For the most part of the novel, the reader pronely roots for Ravi despite his evident flaws and shortcomings, as he fits a realistic image of the common man. The writing style adopted is simplistic, straightforward and quite informal in manner, which blurs the boundaries between the reader and the author. The story has been left open-ended so as to invite the reader to draw his or her own conclusion which adds to the gritty suspense till the last word. The morality of the individuals is often questioned while the desire for justice piles up. In these aspects, the novel sticks to the conventions of a thriller, leaving the readers cliff-hanging.
Although the events happening at Imperial are plenty and are multilateral in nature, the moderate pace of the narrative fails to grasp the attention of the reader at several instances. That said, the ultimate low point of the book is the extremely poor editing that reduces the credibility of the writer as well as the storyline and disrupts the flow of the narrative with misplaced punctuation and numerous syntactic errors scattered throughout the book. It takes away from the sheer enjoyment of reading. Also, the novel is in the want of better characterization as the figure of the protagonist, when imagined, remains dull and blurry, let alone the other characters. They remain faceless, unpredictable and dependent beings; especially as they are solely seen through the eyes of the narrator. This, at times, reduces the believability factor.
The undercurrent of humour through the panicky and nail-biting moments work as a sort of comic relief but this brand of humour needs some getting used to. As a debut, Namburi has done a good job considering the genre and the setting, and with this novel he efficiently adds to the Indian literary scene as an early work in this sub-genre.