I had picked up "The Romantics" from the marked down section of the local book store some time back. I had not heard about this guy and given the fact that most Indian writers (who write in English) seem to write mediocre, sentimental crap aimed directly at getting six figure advances from American publishing firm I was not very hopeful.
The story is not brilliant, another growing up, rites of passage type tale where the hero does not do much except appear broody (like the guy who played Donny Darko- he springs to my mind as I just saw him in a movie this afternoon). The world always revolves at a crazy speed around this hero - you may call him Samar. Women come into Samar's world, fall in love with him and leave him. Macho men (whom he adores) help him out and poets spout poetry in his company. Samar observes these people with a somewhat clinical detachment and lets on what he feels only at the end like wise sage. Nothing new, but what is refreshing is the simplicity with which Pankaj Mishra describes Benares, its ghats and the disillusioned tourist in search of some Oriental mysticism. It also helps that Mishra's tale though cliched is set in a world which has not been explored much beyond the boundaries of vernacular literature. Read it for sentimental reasons, to evoke that collective hum of an Indian street at dusk, to remind yourself of the smell of burning incense mixed with the smell of stale flowers and milky sweets found in temples. Don't read it for its characterisations....the main hero Samar is pathetically boring and dull. After his one great French love leaves him, he goes through the next seven years of his life as a recluse with the sex life of green-blue algae in the Himalayas. I just don't get it....its probably me. I usually do not have much patience and even less sympathy for such hopeless romantics.