Ebenezer is a converted, slightly above average student in a missionary school, belongs to a lower middle class family with dreams of making it to an IIT, in short, he is a nobody with fairly reasonable dreams. His life is shaped by the fact that his father has converted to a member of a church which makes him ineligible to benefit from caste reservations. When the rest of the world around him receives special coaching and training for entrance exams of whatever kinds, Ebenezer self tutors himself. A typical story would gift his hard work and make him successful, in this story he ends up getting a diploma from a make shift training center. He is not the hero of the book but merely a protagonist and this is what makes Hitchhiker special. His future is blurred, not just to the readers but to Ebenezer himself. An obvious question would be then what is so great about his life that makes one want to write a book about it, the answer is, exactly that. It is a humanist story of a character who can actually exist, like I said he is no hero, he does not make difficult choices, he is not overtly loyal in fact given a chance he will get the heck out of the politics of the church. He is in love but his mixed identity becomes a problem there as well. He is a sum total of people around him and situation posed in front of him. The crises that he faces in life are hardly a result of his choices. The fact that he bears them without complaining is what makes Ebenezer interesting.
Hitchhiker is a brilliant title for the book, in fact it is ironic as Ebenezer never gets a real free ride anytime in his life! His right of hitchhiking was taken away by his father even before he was born. The story goes on with the of religious conversions, religious disharmony, cultural hegemony and language superiority as the undertones. The main story is however very simple, something that a high school kid would relate to.Vinod Joseph, the author of the book, is very observant, he notes simple expressions of children and has produced them very effectively. How a child wants to view his/her result if he/she has done well in the exams, the ability of kids to make and break plans in the matter of minutes and the broken consciousness of human beings, at one second Ebenezer is depressed and hopeless about his job and the other he is enjoying an expensive meal as a treat by his girl friend are some of the things that immediately come to my mind.
Hitchhiker is sheer enjoyment. It is not a reading exercise, it is more about exploring how simple things are note worthy and lovely to remember. Some may think it is a sad story, I for one think it is simply a typical Indian story. You do not get everything you want and that is not too bad a thing, is something I realize while reading it. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys learning more about conversions, delicate issue of reservations or just wants to read something good. Its a great read for Italian neo-realism fans too.
Vinod Joseph is a solicitor based in London. Hitchhiker is his debut novel. We at mutiny have contacted Mr Joseph and he has agreed for an interview. We will be back with him on Monday, so stay tuned. 🙂
Rs350/-; US$22.00; 406pp
Authored by Vinod George Joseph