JOE’S GANG: A CODER'S COCKTAIL

The book is made up of young characters. Wherever older characters walk in, there is discord, suspicion, guile. The young world is brainy, brawny, boisterous. Their world is not perfect, but then who wants perfection?
Mamta Kalia Lucknow 

A CODER'S COCKTAIL by Shashwat Rai is a debutant novel that surprisingly falls into the range of current campus novels. The difference is that this is not an education campus but a workplace campus, the SYSINFO, an IT company located at Mangalore. 

First time authors have an initial advantage - the reader approaches them with a mind without hang-ups. Cocktail brings alive one of the most traumatic periods of our times: recession hitting hard the IT industry. We may smugly call it a global phenomenon and sit back, but for those who are stumped by it, the pain is personal and real. 

Shashwat gives a graphic account: "I got a call from the delivery manager, Mister Bhatt. He asked me to come straight to his meeting room, you know I thought, maybe it's regarding some event or something that he wants me to host....''Hmm hmm...' Its fun to share your pain, if you haven't tried it yet, may be one day give it a shot..."

"As I entered, I saw the HR, Smriti and the security head seated around a laptop. Looking straight at me, Bhatt announced... 'Mister Maqbool, you have been found wanted in your duties towards your work product. The inconsistencies and the dependency in your work leave us with no option but to discontinue your services. The corporate hereby has decided to lay you off. You have two options: one is to give us in writing that due to some personal reasons you are resigning and second is that we terminate your services. I would suggest you take the former because then corporate would compensate you with three months' salary and furnish you your work experience certificate... You have roughly ten minutes to clear your belongings and fill up your separation documents."

"You know in just a few minutes I was thrown out of the premises I thought of as my second home. The same guard, who smiled at me and treated me like I was someone, snatched away my ID card as if I was nobody... I was not even given a chance to bid farewell to my colleagues..."

During recession, the IT campus turns into a virtual chicken farm where no one knows who would be the next victim. Recession spreads like bird flu. The protagonist, Santosh Joseph, SJ, is not hit by the layoff epidemic, but his life without friends is lonely and melancholy. This brings us to the most important mood of the book. 

Shashwat is a vivid story teller. The narrative brings alive his group of friends or the little Joe Gang. Borrowing the threesomeness of the three musketeers, the three are Adi, Netaji and SJ. The Joe Gang comes into existence when Pankhuri joins them. There are rare moments of love and buddiness. Pankhuri's character is sensitively portrayed. Unlike the 'mantrap' ways of Ruhi, she is sober, simple and sincere. Pankhuri brings sense to the 'scary fairy' bachelor home. 

SJ, whose life has thus far meant only guys and sports, finds her fit into his dream frame like a picture postcard. Now, he has a bucketful of wishes that remains unfulfilled because Pankhuri is posted first to the city office and then to Mysore. SJ professes his love using flowery language, vacillating between slang and classic. 

In her absence, there are all sorts of mad experiments, rare parties, limbo games, Goa frenzy, pot sessions. The three friends run into trouble more than once and are saved the gun mainly because of SJ's brainy resourcefulness, such as when Adi and SJ realise they had left their mobiles in their clothes during a police raid on a pot party. SJ risks going inside the tent a second time. When the cop asks his identity, he says, 'I am Rajdeep Sardesai from CNN. I needed to scan the area.' His dare-devilry succeeds more than once.

A Coder's Cocktail is a youthful story made up of entirely young characters. Wherever older characters walk in, there is strife, discord, suspicious activity, guile. The young world is brainy, brawny, boisterous. Their world is not perfect, but then who wants perfection?

Shashwat's style is different and original; it is defiant and racy, witty and detailed. 

This first time author moves on sure footing as a storyteller. His work in Infosys becomes relevant here since a lot of India's young are engaged in IT in a big way. Their hopes and dreams are built and shattered with every boom and doom. Goes without saying that the book is a must read for every IT bug and others alike.

Mamta Kalia edits 'Hindi', a quarterly English magazine

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: NOVEMBER 2010