In one sentence – The Virgins captures the Akhadpan and Fakkadpan of Banarasi’s. It is about the raw young boys and their world of power plays in the growing up years. Of falling in love and not being able to convey it. Running away from schools, parents, and teachers. And a strange relationship with the waters of Ganga and Assi Ghat.
Boys from different tiers of society engage with each other, somewhat from the pedestal of their family’s standing. And somewhat from the camaraderie of their youth. They have a troubled relationship with their parents due to different reasons. But results in the same alienation from the family. They are all trying to deal with it. Sometimes by trying to live up to their expectations, sometimes by rebelling vehemently against them. They come together for petty crimes. And get into a vicious spiral that leads to bigger crimes and enmity between groups. Ultimately few are disabled. And few lose their lives. The power play that happens is what keeps you interested in the story.
It captures well how some reluctant participants get eventually sucked into the environment. A good look into the teenage psyche of the small town India where parents are too busy with their lives, teachers too incompetent and friends all wayward leading each other.
It captures the city and its essence very well. The ghats and its residents come alive. And so do the boats and their owners. The Ganga that is revered and used to party and drink by the same people is probably an example of the love-hate relationship that we share with all those who are close to us. Then there are musicians, food stalls, University, Lanka market, Gadolia, temples and the foreign travelers who all the boys like to fancy. And even want to impress them with their English. The whole feel of the story is raw and rustic just like the city. At one place author goes on to describe Varanasi if it was a man and that I think is the best part of the book. And shows authors observation and understanding of the place and his personal connection with it.
The city is as much a part of the book as the boys. But then it is not too difficult to fall in love with this city that has enchanted people through the ages.
To begin with, I found the language not too palatable. But as the story progressed either I got too engrossed in the story or I interpreted the rawness of the language as an essential part of the story. If it was written in Hindi, or even translated to, it would be far more fun to read as the dialogues will become far more nuanced and meaning-laden.
Read The Virgins to know a segment of society that is not often written about. Read it to re-visit your adolescence and see how different was your own life from these boys and you may be surprised with the answer, after all, it is a time when you are moving out of childhood and moving towards adulthood and many times you are confused about from what point you should operate.
Raw but enjoyable!