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False Ceilings Paperback – 1 Jan 2016
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About the Author
Having studied M.Tech in Computer Science from Kurukshetra University, Amit Sharma is currently working as a Software Engineer in Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for the last ten years.
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Well done amit..
Secrets have great powers; they can make or break even a person’s existence. They are fragile and, should be handled with care. But what if a secret fails to see the light of truth for even over 100 years? What if it was revealed years before? What if-then-else..?
Amit Sharma’s debut novel, False Ceilings, starts with the account of Aaryan, one of the pivotal characters in the book, finding the If-Else statement peculiarly in sync with our life.
Aaryan couldn’t have imagined this epiphany to be his last statement when he died 43 years later.
The story of False Ceilings is stretched through a span of over 130 years; starting from a warm July morning of 1930 to the summer of 2062. The protagonist of the story, Shakuntala, was born on some day of July 1930 in the picturesque valley of Dalhousie. Shankuntala’s mother, Kusum, died while giving birth to her second child marking that to be one of the most crucial points of Shakuntala’s life. Though it was the pre-independence era, in spite of all the opposition from his family, Kusum’s father, Kanshi Ram, admitted her to a convent.
Life took a tumultuous turn for her when her father died in an accident. She was only 10/11 years old at that time. She was brought to her uncle’s home according to her wish and eventually got married within a year. On the evening of her marriage, her uncle handed over her something wrapped in a piece of yellow cloth and advised her to use it as a weapon wisely when the necessity called. The secret takes off the trigger!
False Ceilings is a family saga. Apart from the protagonist, Shakuntala, there are 6/7 central characters whose life start and end in the span of 130 years. From the desultory days of pre-independence to the technology boosted, highly-digital futuristic days of 2060, these characters have helped immensely to build up the framework of the story. The story gets its foothold through them; their expectations and worries, happiness and frustration, tension and trepidation.
Each of the characters has been nicely churned out. So much that they walk just in front of you, giving you a sense of meeting them somewhere. The characters are real, very much. The readers perhaps would be able to see glimpses of their own selves in them; making them standing in front of a mirror, stealthily, as if, some secret is up there too.
Just like us, the characters of Manohar, Lipi, Vinod, Aaryan, Meena, are human beings. They have been portrayed in different shades of grey, but never in either black or white. Still, the delineation doesn’t appear drab or monotonous and, there lies the skill of Amit as a writer.
Apart from the central characters, the author has paid diligent attention to the not-so-conspicuous characters as well. I think, characterization is an important literary device and, if the author can use it effectively, she/he is sure to make an impact on the readers.
Amit has expounded on every single character making them three-dimensional and identifiable.
This is perhaps the deciding factor of a novel. Most of the writers, restrain themselves from taking a different stride in their debut novel. Amit showed the courage to do that.
Amit’s story starts in medias res; following a non-linear narrative style.
I have a particular fondness for this style, especially because, it leaves a lot to your imagination and, that each chapter leaves a trail…to the next one. The reader must reach the end in order to have all the strings together. False Ceilings has succeeded in doing that for me. Amit even has wonderfully used the ‘stream of consciousness’ style in a few places.
Covering a wide span of time through which the story went was not an easy task for the author. Amit has done elaborate research to make things look plausible and realistic. The mention of Rabindranath Tagore and Subhash Chandra Bose’s stay in Dalhousie clearly shows his painstaking research even for minute details.
Amit didn’t spend many lines to delineate the black days of partition, of people fleeing for their lives, of neighbours murdering each other for the sake of religion; but what he said, were enough to convey the horror of those turbulent times. Similarly, a single incident described through the eyes of 5-year-old Aaryan, and one can at once feel the miasma of events of the historic year of 1984.
I’ve already stated my fondness for the narrative technique followed by Amit, but, this very quality could be a turn-off for some readers. In the first half of the story, things are narrated in a disjointed manner; a constant past-present-future roller coaster and the characters seemingly look as if not connected with each other. Whereas it has intrigued me to find out the interconnection and piqued my interest as a whole, it might just be the opposite for some.
The secret remained wrapped in silence till the very end of the story. But, at a point, the reader reaches a crescendo and wants it to get revealed as a plethora of imagination plays in her/his mind. Sometimes, the story gets a bit drifted from the main plot making it unnecessarily long.
But, trust me, once you are engulfed in the story and delve deeper, you would find it interesting enough.
The cover looks not so appealing at a glance; it’s only after finishing the book the reader is supposed to comprehend the picture on it. So, go by the adage of not judging a book by its cover.
Last but not the least, there are a few typographical errors here and there. But, even a nitpick like me, just ignored them while reading.
It’s a nice read as the first venture of the author. I find it as a great relief from the love-you-with-tears-in-the-eyes stories.
We all have some secrets nicely kept in the cupboard. But some secrets are a kind of prison, it makes us lonely at heart. It promises us nothing but helps us to rear the malice and false pride, sometimes, through generations.
In just 10 pages all elements of 'False Ceilings' come through. We sense suspense and see mysterious objects. We notice how the context is spread across ages and we are introduced to two main of the many characters in the book, struggling to reconcile what's gone, what is and what could be. The stage is set!
But as you read on, impatient for the mystery to unravel, it hits you! The creation of it is but a ruse to make you read a story that contains so many of our stories within it ' of families, our lives, our insecurities, our deeds-misdeeds, our false ceilings of hope and expectations, our despair, our reactions, our loves, our losses and finally our goodbyes. At the core of 'False Ceilings', then, is the human drama of 'life'. It is then that you stop chewing your nails in bated anticipation of the wooden Almirah showing you the secret package, and fully realize what makes 'False Ceilings' what it is.
The complex plot is delivered rather cleverly. The reader is made to jump (in not so straight lines) between Flashbacks and Flashforwards such that neither the meticulous arrangement of the sequence of the stories nor the neat tying up of various threads at the end is compromised. This deft arrangement grips the reader in an experience where she is continuously being challenged to draw the family tree to know son from father and daughter from grandmother. This guesswork continues right till the end of the book, where the character names are revealed so matter-of-factly that you cannot but commend Amit for the nonchalant style of revelation. Almost as if he worked hard to first confuse, then challenge and then tease the reader with a 'pay attention or you miss it!' style. What adds to the narration is the hold of suspense, a grip which does slacken to get lost in the main events of the family drama, but never dies.
The book is strong on context, placing characters in varied geographies drawn to the tee, from Dalhousie of the 1920s to a future where soups are made by 'mixing capsules'. Amit seems to have researched the past well and imagined the future plausibly in order to document the flux of time and the passing of ages, an idea central to a saga. References to real historical events are used to map time too.
You may wonder if this crafty arrangement of the plot is well suited for the theme of the book, or better suited for a crime thriller. But one has got to acknowledge, putting aside the few problems the book has, the extent, both of the honest-to-life story and life's philosophy behind it, which this debut contains. A mature book within which you may find your own story. Be aware that within it you may find your own false ceiling too!
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