Under the heat
Caught in a rat race to enroll and succeed in top institutions of India, most childhoods are now lost in an atmosphere of competitiveness. Toppers, written by debutant writer Aayush, is everything you wish you had read when you were younger. And it is no disappointment to adults either.
The book is set in the fictional town of Woodsville, a school crammed with brilliant students and a prestigious reputation in national circles. But an atmosphere of competitiveness brews as students contend for the post of head scholar and the book turns dark.
On the outside, a topper’s life might be all rainbows and sunshine but Aayush reiterates a line from the book: ‘Everyone hated toppers; toppers hated toppers even more’. “I think, it neatly sums up the conundrum of being great at academics, admired by your peer group, and acknowledged by your teachers: everyone wants to be you while resenting the fact that you are who you are,” he explains.
He further adds, “I have been envious, resentful, in awe and finally resigned to the fact that some of my friends were inexplicably better at academics than the rest of us. You might think that toppers have the x-factor but it is only with time that you realise that the x-factor is a combination of hard work, dedication and drive.”
Talking about how close his life has been to this book, Aayush shares, “Toppers has nowhere been close to my life as far as the plot is concerned.
“However, the internal struggles, the impossible decisions, the tight corners, are all resources you use to give life to the characters. Your characters definitely have some of you in them. I identify with each of the major characters. Given the right situation, I am the psycho, I am the trickster, I am the patriot, I am the leader and I am invisible. A Breakfast Club is playing on in each teenager’s head. All I wanted was to get it on paper.”
Ironically, this young adult fiction is talking about a rat race which also nudges young adults away from reading. For children who are pushed into a rat race these days, to come back to the healthy habit of reading is a tough exercise. “Reading books, fiction as well as non-fiction, is a deeply internalised exercise. While it takes a substantial amount of your time, it also gives you time to reflect on ideas, issues and decisions. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for the books I read,” he adds.