The Debt Collector’s Due
By Adhirath Sethi
There comes a day in every boy’s life when he needs to sit down and decide what to do with the rest of it. But our layabout hero, Samay, slept through it, as he did most days growing up. Waking up aged twenty-nine, he finds that he barely has any money left in the bank and the only job anyone is willing to give him is as a debt collector for small businesses.
To top it all, he has had no luck with his college flame, Amrita. They were close friends once but are not even in touch any more.
His less-than-ordinary life takes a mad turn when he is mistaken by mob boss Pande for a hitman and given Rs 75 lakh as payment. Samay wants to take the money and flee the city, but he discovers that Amrita, now a journalist, is next on the hit list…
The Debt Collector’s Due is a wild ride through the drama of college heartbreak and a terrifying murder in south Mumbai’s Parsi colony to the sweaty alleys of Crawford Market and the mist-filled valley of Panchgani. This is a story about shifting fortunes and high stakes, a breathless read from the first page to the very last word.
Let me start with the cover of the book. I don’t usually comment on the cover but this one definitely needs a mention. It portrays a hand holding four cards (aces), one marked with a heart while the other three are blotted with the rupee symbol, which signifies the importance of money or lack of it, on the characters in the story. It also brings in the metaphysical dimension with Samay’s (protagonist) life being swayed by luck or the lack of it, just as drawing a hand at a game of cards. Along with it, Gateway of India in background with a man and woman holding hands trying to escape (a story set in Mumbai). The cover sums up the story and it initially intrigued and cajoled me to pick up a copy.
‘Come on Sam,’ he chided himself, ‘this day isn’t going to totally suck unless you’re awake to experience it.’ – This sums up Samay’s life thus far with him slobbering through most of his lack-luster younger years. He was a college dropout, unmotivated in his life who does nothing but spend the money inherited from a late uncle. Along with it, he has been rejected by his lady love – for being short of ambition which sways her choice between Samay and her career in journalism.
Over the years of sleeping and not working, the inheritance from his uncle draws thin and Samay is forced to look for work, which yields more than unpleasant results. After 85 interviews and rejections, he is hired by a ‘noble soul’ who wants to help Samay and offers a job as a debt collector. Samay excels at his job both because of his calm and pleasant personality and his sheer necessity for money.
Samay is on one of his usual debt collections, and he is mistaken for a hitman and a large sum changes hands wrongfully. Driven by need and greed, he chooses to run with it and start a life elsewhere. However, along with the cash comes the news of Amrita (his lady love in college) being the next target to eliminate. Samay chooses to stay and protect her from whatever impending danger.
Why is the mob after her? How does Samay help her forms the rest of the plot.
The story moves smoothly from start to finish. However, the twists and turns were unbelievable as everything conveniently falls in place every single time for Samay. It reads like a string of coincidences and I wasn’t convinced it was possible, as only the good fellows get this leveraged treatment while everything goes wrong for the bad guys.
The last stroke of dislike came with Raka falling into a manhole and staying there for hours while people try to help him. Does this happen in broad daylight and that too for a hitman? However, the media personnel taking pictures, lowering the mike into the manhole to get Ramdeo’s (Raka) reaction was hilarious and very real.
I was rooting for Samay from the get go although his life is less than impressive. He is sharp, shrewd and funny which makes him more than likable and I wanted him to succeed no matter what. I love an underdog rising.
The other important characters are Amrita, an ambitious woman, who knows what she wants at all times and won’t shy away or stop until she gets what she is aiming for. This makes her an excellent female protagonist, with her taking on larger than life issues to battle along her line of work. Also, Pande and Raka the mobsters and the commissioner were interesting and chiseled well.
Although the character of Waghmare had a tiny role to play in the entire plot, I loved the charming constable – Especially like his ‘extra polish for his shoes’ and ‘expensive starch on his shirt.’
Here is a passport-size picture of the constable – “Last year he was loaned out to the traffic department, as they had a shortage of policemen. The stint saw him hand out two traffic tickets and seven near traffic tickets –wherein the culprits had driven off while Waghmare searched for his pen.”
Nevertheless, I wasn’t so sure a constable would have a ‘tiny gun’ tucked in his sock to be pulled and used when necessary.
All the characters had their unique traits and were reasonably well rounded.
Nonetheless, the relation commissioner and his wife share with Amrita was too Bollywood for me. It seemed too convenient (to the plot) as the couple are childless and take a liking to the girl and treat her like their own daughter, along with her burping with generous home cooked meals! I’d definitely like to meet one such commissioner of police.
One last observation – there was too much nausea in the book as everyone more or less has the need to throw up at some point of time or have unbelievably weak stomachs.
The flow is remarkably smooth and hilarious with admirable use of similes and metaphors. Sometimes I had to look around to make sure people weren’t looking at me for laughing aloud, reading.
I have great admiration for the author’s descriptions. They are vivid and draw confusion-less picture for the reader. The language is simple and it is unbelievably gripping. I think the author needs to be applauded for achieving this remarkable feat.
Here are some examples –
“Mr. Raman had the look of a man who had taken only forty years to reach the age of fifty-five.”
“There was a dank smell in air emanating from the slum. In the rains, small rivulets of dark water would form and weave their way through the slum’s alleyways and culminate at the far end, where the toilets and bathing taps were located. It was an ode to filth and destitution, and it was exactly where Ramdeo needed to go.”
“The cart was moved, and Raka prayed, with every atheistic fibre in his body, that he would be rescued soon.”
There are many others that are sure to draw a chuckle from the audience.
If you ignore the reality/plausibility of events unfolding and just go with the flow of the story, and bury yourself in it without second guessing, the book definitely is a good onetime read.