(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
Sudhir K Arora
Abnish Singh Chauhan
Vikas Sharma’s I.A.S. Today takes the reader into the two parallel worlds where he hears the intellectual tunes in one, and sees the criminal dance in the form of sex and murder in the other. This paper attempts to bring out some random reflections on life into light and traces some parameters which become the guiding principles for all. Through his characters, the novelist in Vikas Sharma offers mantra of ending the stress, some basic principles of life, formula of ‘no hurry and no worry’ and message of hope in life. The simple game of life lies in mind which is the creator as well as the destroyer. Joys and sorrows are the two sides of the same coin of life. Problems make life living. No one can escape from the sins that one commits in life. But, it is love that makes life pleasant. One who is true to oneself will always be true to all. The novelist opens the secret of life. The secret is to live in the present moment. For the novelist, life becomes a flow—a constant flow that flows continuously while following the patterns of Indian culture with the aim of doing creation, integration and transformation for giving a meaning and relevance to life through self-awareness and self-knowledge. Truly, the novel reveals the Indian parameter of living life with passion and love.
Keywords:Struggle, Conflicts, Crime, Prarabadh, Stress, Guilt, Love, Mind, Sex
Life is mysterious and full of conflicts. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis give meaning and relevance to life. It is a web of opposites and conflicts. Man finds himself caught in this web right from the day when he takes birth and remains while struggling till his departure from this world to the other world—the world from where no one returns. Thus, life is the fusion of hope and despair, positive and negative, smiles and tears, victory and defeat and so on. Fight, struggle, surrender, conquer etc. are the common words in the sphere of life. People generalize life and with their gained experiences create some parameters which become the guiding principles for all.
Vikas Sharma’s I.A.S. Today , which is replete with some guiding principles about life, is relevant in today’s scenario, particularly for the students who want to achieve something in their lives. The novel makes them realize the oppressive and hidden realities of life and also opens the secret chapters which often remain unopened and un-deciphered. Without touching the details of sex scenes, which, according to Vandana Sharma, are “erotic” making the novel “realistic and modern” (33), the paper makes a modest attempt to bring out some random reflections on life with the aim that the reader may go through them and apply them for getting meaning and relevance in life.
The novel, as the title suggests, is expected to be about those who are I.A.S or on the verge of qualifying I.A.S. examination, but this is not the complete truth about the novel. Besides talking of the I.A.S. examination and things related to it, it talks of the general life of the people—good and bad, honest and dishonest, friends and enemies, material and spiritual. But, before decoding the guiding principles of life in the novel, it is essential to know the very theme and attitude of the novel. While writing the blurb of the novel, Vikas Sharma writes:
Juxtaposing the world of greed against that of detachment, I.A.S. Today is a story of Romesh, a Gandhian, who gets married with Trishala Vasu during his training period and later tries to uproot crimes to the best of his abilities. In the same world is also Tinny, a son of noble parents who becomes a ring leader and forms his own gang with Kale, Penny, Vallu and Gannu and leads a lecherous life with Kanti, Rewati and Swati. With his sin bin already full, will he face the repercussions for his misdeeds? With strong female characters, the novel presents the readers with a conflict between love and lust, violence and non-violence, rustic and urban life. Still the question remains to be answered “Is Fancy a deceiving elf?” (Blurb)
The blurb reveals the very theme and attitude of the novel. The novel demonstrates the parallel worlds—one good world where people like Romesh and Trishala Vasu live and the other dangerous world where the gangster like Tinny reside with power. The female characters—Kanti, Rewati and Swati also live in this world where they find themselves weak but with the passage of time, they become stronger in their approach to the extent that they become the cause of the end of the evil, present in the form of Tinny and fellows like him.
Vandana Sharma praises Vikas Sharma highly and considers him “an excellent writer” (33) while comparing him with writers like Chetan Bhagat and Manju Kapoor. She writes about I.A.S. Today thus:
On the whole, the novel presents a wide variety of themes in unison. The novel is packed with deep knowledge and discussions on a huge number of disciplines as the writer himself is well versed with many fields of intellect. However, this makes the novel quite cumbersome. Like Milton’s writings, the novel is not for the layman. It is scholarly and for the intellectuals. There are references, minute details and discussions. The novel is vast like the syllabus of I.A.S., which is indicated in the title itself. The writer does not leave behind the moral and ethical part of our lives and he shows how morality always succeeds in the end and the immoral receive punishment for their sins. (I.A.S. Today 34)
Sandeep Kumar Gupta traces that the novel I.A.S. Today “presents two worlds—the former is intellectual world and the latter is the world of crime, love and lust” (208). The minor intellectual world cannot be burnt in the fire of the major world of crime, love and lust. No doubt, the novel is sprinkled with the red colour of blood and sex but it has also some positive points which have become the guiding principle of life.
An author writes what he has in his mind. What is in his mind? His mind is the storehouse of all the impressions, experiences and observations that he creates, feels and learns while living life. What he creates is the copy of the creation which is present in his mind. The creation actually is the result of the idea which he has developed in his mind. Vikas Sharma follows this theory of Plato that “idea comes first” (I.A.S. Today 6). Romesh Shrotriya is the main character who represents Vikas Sharma’s belief in Plato’s theory. The novel is not without idea. Idea is the centre round which the webs of parallel stories of different characters are woven. The author develops the idea into creation and offers a sublime effect. Romesh expresses this very idea when he says: “Each literary artist develops an idea in his book and concentrates upon its various aspects to produce a sublime effect (I.A.S. Today 7). This is what Vikas Sharma attempts to achieve with success to some extent as he has full faith in Ovid’s saying like his character Romesh Shrotriya: “What cannot art attain” (I.A.S. Today 3)!
The novel begins with the deep thinking of Romesh Shrotriya who asks questions and finds the answer, hidden somewhere in them:
He often asked himself—‘Why beg affection and respect from others? Why weep for his early poverty? Why curse the darkness when a candle could be lit? Why lament for the past that has left deep scars on his heart? Why cry for the love of a particular girl merely because she is pretty? Why not depend upon personal skills, work hard with intelligence and prudence? (I.A.S. Today 3)
These are the questions which are not the questions of Romesh but the questions that everyone asks himself. Everyone thinks of love, respect, poverty, past etc. and knows somewhere the solutions which depend on one’s personal skills, work hard and foresight. Life is another name of struggle. This struggle becomes easy when a man believes in himself and does not depend on others for help. His own personal skills and hard work make him face all the challenges of life.
The novelist Vikas Sharma gives the mantra of ending the stress from life when he makes the tennis coach say some tips. The coach asks Romesh to run by the roadside early in the morning and breathe for five minutes. This technique will make an end of his stress problem. It seems that it is the novelist himself who offers the basic principles of life to the I.A.S. aspirant Romesh Shrotriya . The basic principles as described in the text are:
Choose the aim of life carefully.
Have an option in case you fail to achieve the main goal.
Ask yourself every week—‘What are you doing daily to achieve your goal?
Ask yourself—‘What are the problems of your way? What are you doing daily to overcome them? (I.A.S. Today 5)
The greatest enemies of life are worries. The need is to fight against worries otherwise they will swallow life. Trishala Basu is very practical and she knows how to have a balance in life. She likes to enjoy weekends in order to work for five days. She asks Romy (Romesh) to enjoy life and not to worry. Very practically she advises him saying: “Why feel weakness in worthless worries as sky is not going to drop down on your head and mother earth is not going to open her mouth to swallow us” (I.A.S. Today 131). The other character Gannu cares for Niharika who continues to work hard in her tailoring business. Gannu knows that if health is lost, life is useless and worthless. He helps her in maintaining her energy level. Very sensibly, he shares with Niharika saying: “If you lose health, nobody can restore the same. Why waste your youth and beauty for money. We can be happy with a little income. No hurry and no worry” (I.A.S. Today 101). Hence, health is important in life. No one can restore it if it is lost. One should not risk health for money. One can be happy with a little income. The important thing is to have a satisfaction level. “No hurry and no worry” is the mantra for enjoying and balancing life. Though Gannu takes care of Niharika, she is the inspiration that makes him hopeful. She asks Gannu not to search for a job outside. She will be happy with him if she gets “small income plus big love” (I.A.S. Today 99). She consoles him and assures him when she says: “Nothing to worry about as long as we are together” (I.A.S. Today 99). She knows the value of togetherness. She makes Gannu understand saying: “one plus one makes eleven and not just two” (I.A.S. Today 99) and so he should “think positive and march ahead” (I.A.S. Today 99). Both of them take care of each other as they know that worries are the enemies of life.
Guilt is the poison that makes one conscious of the sin that one commits. It is guilt that does not allow one to take rest. Rewati kills Vallu though she attacks him in her self-defence. Vallu approaches her with the evil intention of sexual assault. Rewati attacks him with a brass flower vase to make herself free from his clutches. But the death of Vallu makes her so tense that she continues to think over it day and night. She feels that her life has become “like a dead clock that gave the same time regularly” (I.A.S. Today 192). She becomes so obsessed with guilt that she leaves her worldly possessions and goes in search of peace and light. Kanti gives the letter of Rewati to Jay who reads Rewati’s decision, but does not show any feeling of anger as he believes that every individual has right to pursue goal and she has “every right to decide how to seek her own liberation” (I.A.S. Today 194). Kanti also takes it easy as she has no right to say anything to Rewati. She feels that there may be something good in life in future. Hope is the only word which is suitable here. Hope is what makes one alive. Hope is waiting for something in life. God knows what is right for a person. She utters: “After all, there are many names of hope and only God knows better the name she has chosen for herself” (I.A.S. Today 194). It is better to forget the past and move ahead. Life is to be lived. “Bury the past if you want to survive” (I.A.S. Today 192) are the right words for living life though these words have come from the lips of Jay when he consoles Rewati.
Mind is the centre on which everything depends. Man becomes what he thinks. Romesh has studied Freud’s theory of dreams and the interconnection of conscious mind, subconscious mind and unconscious mind. But he also knows that “mind continues to think and plan good or bad round the clock” (I.A.S. Today 12). He recalls in his mind the names of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Henry James, Dorothy Richardson and Mohan Rakesh who followed stream of consciousness in their writings. These writers gave importance to impressions which are imprinted on the mind every day. He is sure that mind is the creator as well as the destroyer. What is said in the Bhagavad-gita is quite applicable here. He thinks of the mind and finds that it works and plans continuously.
bandhur atmatmanas tasya yenatmaivatmana jitah
anatmanas tu satrutve vartetatmaiva satru-vat (The Bhagavad-gita 6.6)
“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy” (Swami Prabhupada 278).
The greatest key of success in life is the mind. The need is to use it properly for creative purposes. He knows that life is not as easy as a man thinks. Joys and sorrows are the two sides of the same coin of life. Problems make life living. Where there is life, there is struggle. So he asks himself “to be ready against every stroke of whirlwind and ups and downs of life as nobody can escape from the turmoils of life” (I.A.S. Today 3). Life is full of struggle for all, even for the celebrities. While musing over life and celebrities, he concludes that “Well, life is full of eatings and beatings and he accepted that celebrities are humiliated by friends and enemies alike as and when misunderstood” (I.A.S. Today 5). It is the mind that creates knowledge which, in return creates wonders and makes life comfortable. For this, as Romesh believes, “the human mind has got to be admired for making life so comfortable and easy” (I.A.S. Today 49) with the help of technology. The simple game of life lies in mind. The pleasure lies in enjoying the small doses of joys. It is useless to wait for the big doses of joys in life. Trishala Vasu is right when she says that “it is rare that we have big joys in our life” (I.A.S. Today 127). One who waits for opportunities remains unsuccessful. Successful is he who creates opportunities. Though Vallu is not a good character, he attempts to make Gannu understand the mantra of using mind saying “a wise man creates more opportunities than he finds” (I.A.S. Today 182). What he says is true. But the way he follows is not right. He advises Gannu to make money with opium. Jay Tapase also earns money through the illegal ways though he speaks high sounding sentence like “no wisdom in losing head for earthly things” (I.A.S. Today 131). He himself does not apply this in his own life and runs after getting earthly things. All the bad characters realize that they are doing the wrong things but fail to avoid the wrong ways. Gannu is aware of the sins and with Niharika goes to the temple where he utters within before the images in the Jain temple. He knows that “Lords can change the situation with their powers and ever help their devotees” (I.A.S. Today 97) and so confesses: “I am fully conscious of the sins committed by me so far. Enlighten me to lead a decent life as I repent in your presence” (I.A.S. Today 97). What is going on in his mind at this time is how to be happy with his wife Niharika and for this he offers prayers in the temple. But, no one can escape from sins. One has to bear the consequences of sins. S.D.M. Bharati whose son Tinny has gone astray bears the consequences of his sins—sins even committed in the previous births. He thinks of his prarabdh and offers his prayer before the statues of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Luxmi for the peace mind and heart. He states: “Perhaps I have to suffer for the bad deeds done by me in the previous births. Since nobody can escape from the results of his sins, I am no exception” (I.A.S. Today 37). Every character attempts to get peace but gets success or failure according to the mental state. The mental state changes with ‘Time’ that “moves regularly leaving its footprints on earth, palaces and huts equally” (I.A.S. Today 46).
What makes life tolerable and pleasant is love. Love becomes grease that makes life move smoothly. Every character, whether male or female, knows the value of love. Kanti is the female character whose life was dull and boring. But, when she meets Jay, love enters her life. Jay tries to give her comfort and makes her look smart with the help of outfits like gown and jeans etc. Kanti admits the importance of Jay’s love when she states: “Life is dull without your love anyway. Life without you is unimaginable. Changes have got to be accepted with time and situation” (I.A.S. Today 170). Love changes her life and she accepts the changes with the changes in time and circumstances. Love is love and has no connection with religion or caste or any other such thing. Romesh, though has no experience of making love in the beginning of the novel, knows its value in life. He loves love and likes pure lovers who for him “don’t care for religion, caste, creed, physical beauty and ignore all worldly considerations” (I.A.S. Today 16). But, love also becomes another name of sacrifice. Vaishu loves Naini and asks her to concentrate her studies in order to become the Assistant Professor in a college. He asks her not to become a street dancer and expects sacrifice from Naini. He warns her saying: “If you love me, you have to give up. Of course, love needs personal sacrifice” (I.A.S. Today 22). Love does not mean the love of a lover and a beloved. Love has various dimensions. The novelist also introduces the love for the nation. When Romesh gets selection in I.A.S., his father Raman asks him to be devoted to his goal. As being an obedient son and a dedicated citizen of India, Romesh follows his father Raman’s advice: “Be sincere to the nation and yourself too” (I.A.S. Today 74). One who is true to oneself will always be true to all. While preparing for his examinations, he thinks over the question of supporting the nation as a young man. He thinks: “What could he do for the nation and not what the nation should do for him” (I.A.S. Today 67)? His words emit the aroma of patriotism and make one recall the historic words of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country” (John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961).
Creation and destruction are the two aspects of this universe. One who has taken birth will die and one who dies is sure to take birth. God is the creator and destroyer. Human beings have no right to kill. Rewati who kills Vallu in her self-defence feels guilty and so asks Lord Shiva to forgive her. She confesses for her sin that she has committed in her self-defence. She thinks that sin is sin and no one can escape. Her conscience does not let her sleep and makes her muse over it. She states: “Killing someone is not any solution—Who can give birth to anyone? God, Himself is the creator as well as the destroyer of all human beings and she had no ethical right to punish the evil herself” (I.A.S. Today 190). She feels that she has no right to kill. She is not the person to punish the evil. God will punish the evil. One cannot take life in one’s hands and do willingly what one likes whether it is ethical or not. Romesh cites the example of the watch which runs with the system inside. The defect in the inner machine can stop the three wings of the watch. The same applies to the human beings who have to follow “a code of ethics so that the machine of external life continues to run smoothly with pleasant result” (I.A.S. Today 132). Swati feels sad and wants to take revenge the death of her husband Chandra. When she comes to know that Tinny who is also Jay Tapase is responsible for her husband’s death, she plans to murder him by adding a pinch of potassium cyanide to the glass of whisky. Jay drinks and dies after just one sip. She feels satisfied when she takes revenge. This revenge is not revenge but a “revenge with a sense of duty.” She remains alone in the world where she has to struggle against the complexities of life. But, she feels at ease at the point of mental level from where she rises far above “fear, greed and falsehood.” She invokes Lord Shiva and asks Him to show the way to life. She recites the lines of Keki N. Daruwalla when she prays:
Light the way for us with your torch…
Teach us how to distinguish between night and day,
Endless one, anantha
Show us the right way! (I.A.S. Today 199)
The novel I.A.S. Today comes to an end with this prayer of Swati who becomes a medium of ending the evil. The prayer is important because a man fails to make difference between good and evil. Day seems to be night and night day. Only God can show the right path with His torch. Man passes his life in searching for the answer of the mystical question: “Who am I”? The novelist has given a reference of Sumitra who asks herself: “Who am I in reality” and finds difficult to solve the riddle: “Who am I” (I.A.S. Today 45)? The novelist becomes philosophical when he raises such mystical questions. Rewati, after taking sleeping pills, is lost in a dream in which she sees Anand, the disciple of Buddha. In her dream, she wishes to return home because she cannot survive alone. Anand makes her believe that “there is no real home for earthly people. They come from afar and have to return one day to their eternal home…Like tenants, human beings stay for brief hours in this prison called home but then they have got to be liberated” (I.A.S. Today 190). Anand’s reflection makes one recall the lines of Wordsworth who writes:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home: (388)
All the earthly people come from the eternal home, i.e. God and return there as soon as their roles are over on the stage of life. Life is to be lived naturally and spontaneously. If it is lived with Nature, it becomes soothing and comfortable. Trishala Vasu knows the value of Nature in life. She believes in living with nature and exclaims: “Is it not wonderful to stay in the lap of nature” (I.A.S. Today 122)? She is quite practical in her approach. She lives in the present moment. The present moment is the real moment in life. She advises Romesh to “think of present as past is already dead” (I.A.S. Today 131). She cites Wordsworth who regarded Nature as a teacher. Nature teaches what life is. Life is to be lived like “the fall of water” that “never stops.” It is water that never returns to its source; rather it continues “to flow towards the river.” Hence her advice to Romesh is: “Move ahead like the flow of water that cultivates the fields” (I.A.S. Today 131). Living like the flow of water is the living of life lively. Life is to be lived for others as the water cultivates the fields. The mantra of life is: Be honest to oneself and flow like the water nourishing others with love without harming anyone. This is the very essence of Indian authoritative scriptures today—I.A.S. Today. The novel, in spite of a few questionable sex related scenes, possesses the sum and substance of Indian classics and to some extent follows the patterns of Indian culture. P. K. Jain writes: “In spite of a few bath room scenes he does not show any indifference to Indian culture and ancient Indian Classics” (I.A.S. Today 196). The novel, as Amit Kumar Soni writes, “may be read as a novel of social criticism which is characterized by subtle didacticism” (I.A.S. Today 123). Hence, Vikas Sharma’s attitude to life is positive, lively and full of passions. He seems to believe in Peter Altenberg’s motto: “Art is art and life is life, but to live life artistically: that is the art of life” (A Poet’s Glossary 700). For him, life is a flow—a constant flow that flows continuously while following the patterns of Indian culture with the aim of doing creation, integration and transformation for giving a meaning and relevance to life through self-awareness and self-knowledge. To live is to be alive—alive to one’s family, society, nation, nature and universe. The novelist Vikas Sharma, who begins his novel with Ovid’s saying: “What cannot art attain” proves this point in I.A.S. Today. Very truly, the novel I.A.S. Today, apart from a few red drops in the form of sex and murder, reveals the Indian parameters of living life with passion and love.
Bhagavad-gita As It is. Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc., 1972. (Chapter number and Sloka number are given in bracket)
Gupta, Sandeep Kumar. “I.A.S. Today As A Realistic Novel: Change in Situation.” 21 Yeats of 21st Century (2000-2021) Challenges and Issues: A Multidisciplinary Approach, edited by Indu Singh Rajput, Anu Books, 2022 , pp. 203-208.
Hirsch, Edward. A Poet’s Glossary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
Jain, P.K. “Vikas Sharma: A Progressive Writer and Challenges of 21st Century.” 21 Yeats of 21st Century (2000-2021) Challenges and Issues: A Multidisciplinary Approach, edited by Indu Singh Rajput, Anu Books, 2022 , pp. 196-202.
Kennedy, John F. “President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961. https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/president-john-f-kennedys-inaugural-address#
Sharma, Vandana. “Heterogeneity of Thematic Patterns in I.A.S. Today by Professor Vikas Sharma.” International Journal of Trends in English Language and Literature (IJTELL), vol. 3, no. 1, 2022, 32-35. www.ijtell.com
Sharma, Vikas. I.A.S. Today. Diamond Pocket Books, 2021.
Soni, Amit Kumar. “I.A.S. Today: Some Structural and Thematic Considerations of the Novel.” Critiquing the Novels of Vikas Sharma, edited by Vandana Sharma. Diamond Pocket Books, 2022, pp.113-124.
Swami Prabhupada, Bhaktivedanta A. C., Bhagavad-gita As It is. Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc., 1972. (Sloka, translated in prose by Swami Prabhupada is used in this paper.)
Wordsworth, William. “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” Poetical Works of Wordsworth: Together with a Description of the Country of the Lake in the North of England, edited by Henry Reed. Philadelphia: James Kay Jun and Brother, 1837, pp. 387-389.
About the Authors:
Sudhir K. Arora (b.1968) is presently serving as Principal, Maharaja Harishchandra P. G. College, Moradabad, affiliated to M. J. P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly, India. He has several significant publications to his credit including Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger: A Freakish Booker and Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English in Five Volumes. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Dr Abnish Singh Chauhan (1979), the editor of two online journals– Creation and Criticism and IJHER and a Hindi magazine– Poorvabhas (पूर्वाभास), is presently serving as a Professor and Dean, Humanities & Journalism, Bareilly International University, Bareilly. He has authored a number of books including Swami Vivekananda: Select Speeches, Speeches of Swami Vivekananda and Subhash Chandra Bose: A Comparative Study, The Fictional World of Arun Joshi: Paradigm Shift in Values and Tukda Kagaz Ka (A collection of Hindi Lyrics). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.