Toke, by Jugal Mody, is a surprisingly well-penned debut novel in the arena of contemporary Indian fiction in English. It is youthful, creative, funny, unclichéd, and... different.
Blurb from Toke:
So Lord Vishnu showed up one morning when I was really stoned and asked me to save the world from turning undead. How did I save the world? I didn't. We did. And while saving the world, I got to forcefully kiss the girl of my dreams. Many times. My best friends got to smoke a lot of good stuff. A lot more than they would have otherwise smoked in that much time. They also got to crash an airplane into a slum outside Santacruz airport. But don't worry, there were only zombies around when that happened. We were joined in our quest by two Japanese girls who can kill people with their pinkies, one of whom forcefully kissed Danny. Yes, there was a lot of non-consensual kissing in this adventure. With tongue. Hi. I'm Nikhil. This is my story. And I swear I have a T-shirt to prove it.
I'm always a bit skeptical when it comes to Indian fiction in English. And the above blurb did nothing to encourage me about this book. I thought it was going to be yet another attempt to make some money out of Indian religion mixed with fantasy. But, I was so wrong!
Toke, by Jugal Mody, is a brilliant no-brainer story, about Nikhil... a typical average Indian guy, stuck in a mundane job, with a 'hitler' boss, parents who are always disappointed in him, and this huge crush on a girl (called Suparna) from the HR at his office. The other characters, in this part of Nikhil's life, include Alok (his colleague who's always sucking up to the boss), Danny and Aman (his rebel friends from college, who are apparently perpetually stoned), Lord Vishnu (dressed up in a costume straight out of B. R. Chopra's Mahabharat), a talking junkie crow (who claims to be a Hollywood star), Chiaki and Yatsuha (the Japanese twin sisters, whose Kung Fu reminds you of the old video games), and some zombies. Also starring, in guest appearances, Tarzan (who provides our protagonist and his friends free transport in this adventure), Monty Singh (a newly married Jatt with a SUV and a gun), a giant eagle called Swami (the son of Bird King - Garuda - Lord Vishnu's mount), Billie Joe Armstrong (the lead singer of the American punk rock band called Green Day), and Lord Shiva.
Toke is the story of all those young rebels who dream of turning into superheroes overnight, and saving the planet from disaster, also flying an aeroplane in the process. It is the story of strained family ties, unfulfilled work-life, undeclared love, self-worth issues... typical modern day life that we can easily relate to. Everybody smokes a lot of marijuana and hash in this book, including the celebrity crow. Yes, there's also a lot of non-consensual kissing in the story, and yes... they do save the world from turning into a planet of zombies. There's even a lot of Kung Fu fighting that will probably remind you of movies like Drunken Master.
The book cover of Toke reminded me of my school days and my very initial stints with graphics-designing in GW-Basic, on Intel x86 processor machines. Editing and print quality are okay. Writing style is contemporary all the way, without turning into SMS-speak. The book is witty, fast-paced, unpretentious, with liberal doses of humour. Kind of like a typical Priyadarshan movie, complete with its implicit disclaimer - "Leave brains at home."
The author's take on Hinduism reminded me of a skit we wrote in school, to enact in the farewell party for our seniors. It was a humorous modern-day take on Ramayan, and our dramatics teacher totally loved it, but advised us not to go ahead with it, as it would probably "hurt the religious sentiments of some of the audience members". So we replaced it with a politically correct (read: boring) skit that nobody watched. Similarly, Toke is also not for the faint-hearted and creatively-challenged readers.
My rating: 4.75 out of 5. Toke, by Jugal Mody, is not your typical grammatically correct and morally upright story. (How can it be? It is based around the theme that taking drugs is cool!) But, if you're someone who likes a bit of fun and an occasional break from reality, then this book is just perfect for you.
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Disclaimer: This review is a part of the IndiBlogger and HarperCollins book-review program. I received a free copy of the book for reviewing, but that has, in no way, affected my rating and opinions.
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