Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jack Patel’s Dubai Dreams – P. G. Bhaskar

All of us expats know the kinks of living in a world which isn’t quite ours. Some days we find ourselves in situations where all we can do is depend on the kindness of strangers. On other days, we find ourselves riding on the starry highs of being in countries where we can have experiences other Indians just dream about. And we all hope for lives where these two extremes come together to a happy medium.

All of us have stories of how the recession affected us; thankfully many of us Indians escaped relatively unscathed. However; many of those Indians in the banking industry did not. This book is a witty, funny & somewhat dry look at how the big bubble of the investment world burst in Dubai. Written as it is by a banker, guess I shouldn’t have expected much… but I did expect more from a book touted as a fun short read. Oh, and forgive the English… not mine, the author’s.

Jaikishen Patel is a simple ‘gujju’ boy who just wants to make it big in the world of investment banking. His luck & talent combine to make him a part of a new branch of an acclaimed banking institution in Dubai. There he meets a motley bunch of characters; most of them well drawn, none of them unessential to the final plotline. It is these people that define the stages of Jaikishen’s life in Dubai. Named Jack for easy recall by his ‘gora’ boss, Jaikishen then falls headlong into a fast-paced world of business-class travel, million-dollar investments & making sure he has plenty of fun on his way.

There is a lot of word space given to the actual nitty-gritty of banking; explaining to us lay-men/women what actually goes on behind the world of investment. It can get a bit dry reading all of that especially if, like me, you think numbers are just pretty looking squiggles. But I suppose, in all fairness, all that is needed to get a little background into what was going on before the collapse.

In fact, knowing what we do of how the recession hit the world, the earlier part of this book reads rather slowly, especially since we can see the impending doom & gloom about to strike Jack. He seems rather naïve in the face of it all, even when his dad tells him about the stirrings of recession in the US. I suppose the ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality is a part of all our mindscapes.

His colleagues & his life in Dubai lend a rather colourful air to this part of the book. But what I enjoyed most was his frequent trips around the Middle East & Africa, where he would go to meet customers recommended to him or referred to him by friends or his family members. Those stories light up the book & if the author writes again, he should do something where he is describing people & their anecdotes. The descriptions of the weirdness & eccentricities he encountered left me wanting more of that & less of the financial mumbo-jumbo. I also wish there was more of Dubai!

The romance in this book is rather perfunctory; almost as if the editor forced him to put it in as an afterthought. There are distinct sweet notes to the heroine but the chemistry is never brought out. It’s almost as if it’s the love story of our desi parents, never acknowledged but assumed by all of us.

Finally we come to the collapse; which is almost a character in itself. Bhaskar makes sure to point out how there was no way any investment banker could have foreseen it. The losses are huge & the reactions are manifold. I was strangely unaffected by the tragedies however; it was almost as if I didn’t mind that these people who’d been playing around with their money, had lost it all.

Which brings me to my point about this book: Bhaskar never makes it personal enough. Jack’s ‘dreams’ which are part of the title are never truly articulated beyond some materialistic things. He is a goody-two-shoes who is always doing the right thing while others around him keep being human & making mistakes. He never messes up his deals except for a tiny misstep in the beginning. His customers don’t have a riches-to-rags story unlike his colleagues. None of his customers kill themselves. His love story is also perfect. And then, just when he thinks he’s recuperated, he gets another golden opportunity.

Moral: Life doesn’t come wrapped in pretty paper with a bow on top. Unless you’re the hero in a P.G. Bhaskar book anyway.

TL; DR version: It is fun & quick look at how recession hit Dubai. However, don’t expect great language, local flavour or a taut storyline. Enjoy the characters & the Indian-isms & have fun on the ride.

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