Writer Smita Das Jain reviews the book 400 Days by Chetan Bhagat.
First, a disclosure. I am an unabashed Chetan Bhagat fan who started reading other Indian writers only after reading ‘Five Point Someone.’ My bookshelf has a corner adorned with all of CB’s fiction to date. While I liked all his books, none of his other works could work the magic of the ‘Five Point Someone’ for me. And the pivot from bromance and romance to thriller didn’t work for me as a reader of his last two books that, too, were based on the Keshav and Saurabh detective series. So, I was sceptical when I read on his social media handles last year that the then upcoming book ‘400 Days’ was his best ever. Now, after reading the book nine months after his release, I think the statement was not an ideal or aspirational boast. With 400 Days, he has beaten Five Point Someone. I picked up this book last Friday night, thinking I would finish it in two to three days. I ended up sleeping at three am on Saturday morning after closing the book’s last page. This page-turner had me entirely hooked with its plot, setting (Gurugram- the city I call home now) and characters.
The story opens in an apartment in Gurugram’s posh society where Keshav Rajpurohit is staying with his parents and best friend Saurabh, preparing for a career his heart isn’t beating for. He gets introduced to Alia and, through her, gets to know the rest of the Arora family, who are more rich than happy. Alia seeks Keshav’s help to find her twelve-year-old elder daughter Siya, who was mysteriously kidnapped from her grandparents’ bungalow in another part of the city when the entire family was living in the same house. After a couple of months, the police had given it up as a cold case, and everyone had given up hope of Siya being alive. Everyone but Alia.
Who is the kidnapper? Why did he kidnap Siya? How did the child disappear so easily from her grandparents’ home? Is someone from the family involved, or was the kidnapping the handiwork of a person behind the fake Instagram account following Siya’s Insta profile? Will she be found and found alive? These questions form the essence of the story. Being a CB novel, the mystery in the plot goes hand-in-hand with the romantic undertone as the eligible bachelor Keshav falls in love with his much married but not so happily married Alia.
What I liked most about the book is the contemporary touch that the author effortlessly fuses with the traditional elements. Keshav is a millennial whose parents come to stay with him, Alia convinces her husband to move away from the joint family and take a separate apartment nearby and yet visits her in-laws every week, Siya has an Instagram account that later plays a significant part in the story, the description of the glass buildings and the bursting at the seams infrastructure of Gurugram. Much thought and effort have gone into making the story relatable to the youth. At one stage, it felt like I was reading a real-life story instead of fiction -- and there lies the success of the author.
What didn’t work for me somewhat was the character of Alia. The mother’s pain and love for her missing child felt real, and so did the angst of a wife hurt by the indiscretions of her unfeeling husband. However, her romantic feelings for Keshav came across as forced; it was almost as if she made Keshav fall in love with him and then turned a different leaf once her purpose was achieved. Some of these inconsistencies were present in her husband Manish’s character as well. Even till the end, I could not determine who Alia was as a lover and wife, an unintended mystery by the author that leaves a reader frustrated.
The book is written in the trademark CB style, where instead of similes, metaphors, poetic proses and exquisite descriptions, the author uses everyday conversational language to convey the emotions. It has worked and worked really well in 400 Days.
The highlight of 400 Days is undoubtedly its suspense. The truth surprised me, despite the author leaving clever clues throughout the book. And yet, it is a romantic line from the book that has stayed with me even four days after reading it:
\\ Sometimes love means letting go, for the happiness of others.
Simple yet profound.
Chetan Bhagat has packed a punch with 400 Days. The book scores a 4.7/5 for me. If you are a Chetan Bhagat fan, do read this book. If you aren’t a Chetan Bhagat fan, definitely read this book.