I wanted to read Dan Brown’s Inferno. In fact, I had just finished a book before I had to leave for work that day, and was anticipating going home and immersing myself in Robert Langdon’s world of art and Dante and symbology. Then, I received a review copy of The Virgins in the mail, and I was torn between Langdon and this book. I knew I would go through Inferno slowly, savoring the art and detail in the book. And that after that, most books would feel flat, even if they are actually good books. So I thought it only fair that I should finish reading The Virgins before losing myself in Inferno.
Set in Banaras, a town that’s famous as a Hindu pilgrimage spot and for it’s Banarasi saris, The Virgins is a story of three friends and their “sexpot” adventures. Guggi, the son of a local politician, is a spoilt rich brat who comes up with crazy ideas for fun and adventure. In one of their first “sexpot” adventures, the three friends stand outside the girls hostel of Banaras Hindu University as Guggi screams “Hey GIRLS, OPEN EVERYTHING….NOW!” As the girls freeze, a beat constable comes rushing onto the scene to apprehend the eve teasers. Guggi escapes on his scooter with Bandhu, while Pinku is left to fend for himself. As he is running away from the university with the cop at his heels, he realizes that being the poorest of the three, he is always the one who is left behind. Even his drunkard father had disappeared one day, leaving his mother alone to fend for her seven children. The 19-year old school dropout has only two dreams left: to open a cassette shop one day and to marry the plump girl who caught him stealing flower pots. As he is running away from the cop, Pinku promises himself that he will take on the job at Cheeni Chacha’s grocery store and walk on the straight and narrow, staying out of Guggi’s crazy plans.
17-year old Bhandu, meanwhile, is on a rebellious streak. His parents have recently divorced and, in a society where such things are still looked down upon, he finds himself conflicted and angry. To make matters worse, the American tourist on whom he has a crush doesn’t even know he exists.
Both the boys seek solace in Guggi’s crazy “sexpot” plans – each adventure weirder than the last. But their seemingly innocuous joyride takes a more sinister turn when Guggi, eager to leave a mark, gets into the school’s notorious protection racket after a rather violent coup. But Barjesh Yadav, the man whose position he usurps, isn’t about to let things lie. Guggi’s plan to leave a mark drags the three friends into a murky world of heartbreak, betrayal and bloody vengeance.
The Virgins is an exceptionally well written book, though I have to admit it took me a while to fall to under its spell. Tripathi brings the streets, sounds and smells of Banaras alive, exposing its darker underbelly of crime and political clout. The mentality of small-town men, though spot-on, is unsettling and is part of the reason why it took me some time to really enjoy the ride.
His characters are immensely believable. I found myself rooting for Pinku the underdog, wanting to slap Guggi for his impertinence, and shake Bhandu out of his animosity towards his father. The plotting of the novel is excellent too; it doesn’t flag for a moment, hurtling through to its stupendous conclusion, a lot like Guggi’s race on his scooter through the streets of Banaras. Tripathi promises to be a writer to look out for. Overall, I’d recommend this book with a caveat: it might make you slightly uncomfortable at first, but it is one helluva “sexpot” adventure!