Exploits of a cyber coolie
Amarinder Sandhu

Big Apple 2 Bites
by Arunabha Sengupta. Frog Books, Mumbai. Pages 275. Rs 275.

Set in the US on either sides of 9/11, Big Apple 2 Bites is a contemporary novel. The name of the protagonist Anirudhdha Sen Sharma is quiet a mouthful, he is simply referred to as Sen. He is a statistician holding a mundane job of a consultant with Technomind, India. It is his job which brings him to the US.

This is the story of every young Indian who finds himself in the world's greatest landscape. On his first trip to the US, Sen along with seven other software consultants is "going through a process of knowledge transfer..." and no one is sure about his role in the project. The writer intricately weaves the lives of all characters. He has an excellent ear for dialogue and a good sense of humuor, which becomes evident as the novel progresses.

The story depicts the world of the techno coolies who have a life beyond software. The reader gets a peep into the fast, cutthroat world of technology, where your colleagues hack your roots. You have no security of a job as you can be fired any time. This novel points towards the fact that "the United States of America is going through one of the worst periods of slow down." Through the character of Maureen, the writer highlights the antagonisms of the Americans towards the Indians who will soon take over their jobs. The Indians are but cheap labour.

While reading, you are also introduced to the martial art aikido. The New York Aikikai forms an important part of the story. Sen finds a friend in Akira, an uchi desi or resident student at the Aikido school. The writer's exuberant prose regarding this martial art made me think of learning it to.

The writer brings to the reader the scents and smells of America. "Around you there is a conglomeration of variety. An Americanised Japanese couple is busy necking in the back of the coach. A huge black man in Bermuda shorts...A Hispanic girl with crimson-hued hair is moving around distributing leaflets about the evils of war."

Sengupta has very rightly captured the middle-class mentality of the Indians in the US. Most of them mentally convert the dollar into rupees. You will have a hearty laugh at Krishendu who has bought huge quantities of rice, dal, tea and cigarettes from India. He makes a large amount of khichdi and eats it everyday to avoid spending a few dollars on a regular meal. Once back in India, he will find a moneychanger who will offer him the maximum exchange rate for the dollars.

This novel would be incomplete, if I did not mention Allison Palmer, the protagonist's love interest. She is a Julia Roberts mingled with Cameron Diaz look alike. They exchange e-mails, do the rounds of the art museum and click many photographs. But there is a hitch. The attraction seems one-sided and the lovely nymph is engaged .The story has a myriad of charactersóRay Atkins who loves to watch and discuss Sex and the City, boisterous Gurmeet, practical Aniket, unbearable Charanjeet, and many more. The reader will also meet the American-Born-Confused-Desi and he can also accompany Sen and his friends to the desi-bhangra-pop-dance-night and shake a leg on Daler Mehendi numbers. Get intoxicated, and if you are lucky, a 'desi chick' may dance with you.

After the revelry comes the shock. Two aircraft have flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, and 9/11 is a day the world will remember. Then follow days of distrust and rioting. Sen returns to India and is soon given the pink slip. His new job takes him to the US again. America has survived the terror attacks and its spirit is intact. Does Sen meet his ladylove again? Read the novel to satisfy your curiosity.

The writer has dealt with topics as diverse as software, religion, racism, philosophy, emotions, fate and globalisation. The novel is racy and the language is simple. At times the software jargon gets a bit too much, but overall it is an interesting read.