I raced through Karan Bajaj's second book 'Johnny Gone Down' (Harper Collins, Price Rs. 99, p 308) - simply because there is no other way to read it - the hero is running so fast that you have to race to catch up with him. The book has a fine cover (congratulations Bhautik Siddhapura) which conveys clearly that this book will take the reader through a roller coaster ride of the masala movie variety. Only thing is that too many things keep happening to the protagonist in a manner that it gets difficult to identify with him. He can make a success out of everything and screw it up immediately so you don't know what happens to him anyway. It does not seem to bother him so it does not bother you either.Unlike say, Shantaram, who is of the same variety but somehow you don't want him to get into trouble, you feel his pain, his honesty somewhere.
Nikhil Arya, the hero, has graduated from MIT and has gone to Cambodia with his pal Sameer where they descend straight into a genocide. Several heroics later, Nikhil finds himself minus an arm and an accomplice (which we are always reminded of, throughout the book, too many times in fact, editors to blame). Then Nikhil heads off to Thailand and becomes a one armed Buddhist monk who has some realisations about life, and then to Brazil to set up a monastery or a meditation centre. He meets a beautiful model on the airplane, Lara. Somehow women seem to want to talk to and bed Nikhil all the time, perhaps due to his famous silent technique which makes several readers envious of him (me for one). In fact, everything he does makes people admire him, and everything he does not, also makes people admire him (which again made me envious of him again). (What kind of a man would evoke loyalty like that, is the general feeling about his band of fiercely loyal friends and it is sentences like that without much to substantiate his greatness that again put me off)
Anyways after a philosophical discussion on the plane, the model and the monk separate, and Nikhil promptly saves a local druglord from his enemies in a shootout, becomes his right hand (oops sorry, whatever hand) and grows his business several fold, makes a maze of illegal investments and another maze of legal investments and no one knows whether they are legal or illegal, screws several hot, olive skinned Brazilian women named Lucia, Maria etc and is much admired by all and sundry. Oh, and he is a crack shot with whatever gun he wields which every one finds amazing. In fact he is good at everything. Lovemaking, gun shooting, getting women, saving drug lords, making money, meditating, spouting philosophy etc etc etc. Obviously that makes me envious of him again. (If I were half the man you were, my life would be fulfilled - again too big a statement with too little to go by for me)
In Brazil, Nikhil and Marco the druglord love each other like brothers do and make tons of money. One day Marco asks Nikhil if he was ever in love and Nikhil confesses to being besotted by Lara, the model. A meeting is set up, Lara falls in love, ends up making love, since Nick is irresistible to all women. Anyway true love leads to marriage and then kids. Normally it leads to disasters and now, before his son is yet to be born, Nikhil Arya is facing a supari that no one, not even the great Marco can stop. So Nikhil has to flee to a jail while his wife is in delivery, and then to America without seeing his wife and child.
In America (to cut a long story short) Nikhil progresses from a homeless home where toothless people are giving blowjobs to get drugs (some interesting stuff about injecting drugs into eyeballs to get the kick faster), to inventing the greatest computer game of all. The owner of his company, Alfred or something, an MIT grad who is a loser once again, cannot help but admire Nikhil for being such a brilliant guy who has picked up stuff overnight and developed stuff in two days that no one else had done before. Nikhil builds a site which sounded to me like a site I had heard about called 'Second Life' but whatever. Anyway millions are to be made but Nikhil is tired of everything - Cambodia, Brazil, Meditation, Love, Sex, Money, Success, Failure and repeats it often enough. For some reason, I forget which (maybe the drug cartels of Brazil have found out the outsider and want to kill him), he has to evacuate America and get to India to participate in a Russian roulette game in Delhi which is where it all starts.
Anyway, as usual Nikhil plays all his cards right, explains the nuances of how to choose the gun and shoot in a very condescending way, and the other guy is about to be blown off when Nikhil decides to save him, attend his daughter's marriage and as luck would have it, find his old friend from MIT whom he saved in Cambodia. Sameer, that's the guy, has his house full of Nikhil's pictures because he believes that if he can ever be half the man Nikhil has been, his life is fulfilled. His wife also feels the same (they have named their son also Nikhil and probably named all the people they know also as Nikhil) just as everybody on the planet seems to be saying that same thing. Which is when it became a little nauseating for me. If the book continued a little while longer Nikhil would have ended up with all the awards on the planet (what kind of a man would refuse the Nobel and instead give it away to a small kid who always wanted to own a Nobel). Thankfully, Nikhil only does a few things in this book. Maybe in the next.
Okay, but who's Johnny? Johnny is another name that Nikhil takes up to get himself another life while in Delhi but soon after gives up and decides that he is fine as Nikhil. So when Nikhil rises, Johnny gone down pal. His wife and son join him in Delhi by which time you don't care whether it is Delhi or Timbuctu anyway.And if the Brazilian mafia can find him in America I am sure they can find him in India as well.
It's fast and easy to read. Karan is obviously well travelled, can write and thinks up a nice story as well. I liked the general idea. I only wish that Nikhil Arya was a little less perfect at everything including screwing up things - and instead was a bit more likeable and identifiable. As a thriller it works, save for the fact that you don't root for your protagonist because there is really nothing to root for.
But there are more books to come from Karan and his best is surely yet to come.