George Orwell once said, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
Secrets have great powers; they can make or break even a person’s existence. They are fragile and, should be handled with care. But what if a secret fails to see the light of truth for even over 100 years? What if it was revealed years before? What if-then-else..?
Amit Sharma’s debut novel, False Ceilings, starts with the account of Aaryan, one of the pivotal characters in the book, finding the If-Else statement peculiarly in sync with our life.
Aaryan couldn’t have imagined this epiphany to be his last statement when he died 43 years later.
The story of False Ceilings is stretched through a span of over 130 years; starting from a warm July morning of 1930 to the summer of 2062. The protagonist of the story, Shakuntala, was born on some day of July 1930 in the picturesque valley of Dalhousie. Shankuntala’s mother, Kusum, died while giving birth to her second child marking that to be one of the most crucial points of Shakuntala’s life. Though it was the pre-independence era, in spite of all the opposition from his family, Kusum’s father, Kanshi Ram, admitted her to a convent.
Life took a tumultuous turn for her when her father died in an accident. She was only 10/11 years old at that time. She was brought to her uncle’s home according to her wish and eventually got married within a year. On the evening of her marriage, her uncle handed over her something wrapped in a piece of yellow cloth and advised her to use it as a weapon wisely when the necessity called. The secret takes off the trigger!
False Ceilings is a family saga. Apart from the protagonist, Shakuntala, there are 6/7 central characters whose life start and end in the span of 130 years. From the desultory days of pre-independence to the technology boosted, highly-digital futuristic days of 2060, these characters have helped immensely to build up the framework of the story. The story gets its foothold through them; their expectations and worries, happiness and frustration, tension and trepidation.
Each of the characters has been nicely churned out. So much that they walk just in front of you, giving you a sense of meeting them somewhere. The characters are real, very much. The readers perhaps would be able to see glimpses of their own selves in them; making them standing in front of a mirror, stealthily, as if, some secret is up there too.
Just like us, the characters of Manohar, Lipi, Vinod, Aaryan, Meena, are human beings. They have been portrayed in different shades of grey, but never in either black or white. Still, the delineation doesn’t appear drab or monotonous and, there lies the skill of Amit as a writer.
Apart from the central characters, the author has paid diligent attention to the not-so-conspicuous characters as well. I think, characterization is an important literary device and, if the author can use it effectively, she/he is sure to make an impact on the readers.
Amit has expounded on every single character making them three-dimensional and identifiable.
This is perhaps the deciding factor of a novel. Most of the writers, restrain themselves from taking a different stride in their debut novel. Amit showed the courage to do that.
Amit’s story starts in medias res; following a non-linear narrative style.
I have a particular fondness for this style, especially because, it leaves a lot to your imagination and, that each chapter leaves a trail…to the next one. The reader must reach the end in order to have all the strings together. False Ceilings has succeeded in doing that for me. Amit even has wonderfully used the ‘stream of consciousness’ style in a few places.
Covering a wide span of time through which the story went was not an easy task for the author. Amit has done elaborate research to make things look plausible and realistic. The mention of Rabindranath Tagore and Subhash Chandra Bose’s stay in Dalhousie clearly shows his painstaking research even for minute details.
Amit didn’t spend many lines to delineate the black days of partition, of people fleeing for their lives, of neighbours murdering each other for the sake of religion; but what he said, were enough to convey the horror of those turbulent times. Similarly, a single incident described through the eyes of 5-year-old Aaryan, and one can at once feel the miasma of events of the historic year of 1984.
I’ve already stated my fondness for the narrative technique followed by Amit, but, this very quality could be a turn-off for some readers. In the first half of the story, things are narrated in a disjointed manner; a constant past-present-future roller coaster and the characters seemingly look as if not connected with each other. Whereas it has intrigued me to find out the interconnection and piqued my interest as a whole, it might just be the opposite for some.
The secret remained wrapped in silence till the very end of the story. But, at a point, the reader reaches a crescendo and wants it to get revealed as a plethora of imagination plays in her/his mind. Sometimes, the story gets a bit drifted from the main plot making it unnecessarily long.
But, trust me, once you are engulfed in the story and delve deeper, you would find it interesting enough.
The cover looks not so appealing at a glance; it’s only after finishing the book the reader is supposed to comprehend the picture on it. So, go by the adage of not judging a book by its cover.
Last but not the least, there are a few typographical errors here and there. But, even a nitpick like me, just ignored them while reading.
It’s a nice read as the first venture of the author. I find it as a great relief from the love-you-with-tears-in-the-eyes stories.
We all have some secrets nicely kept in the cupboard. But some secrets are a kind of prison, it makes us lonely at heart. It promises us nothing but helps us to rear the malice and false pride, sometimes, through generations.
A quote from the book says it all:
“Sometimes people go trough a lifetime of pain by holding a secret that could have changed everything. It is an intoxicating addiction, an act of dominance to know that you hold something in your grip that could have changed the life of a person you detest.”
Thanks to the author for sending me an author-signed copy.
Amit Sharma is a Software Engineer in TCS. He can be found at,
[ This review was commissioned by the author. Views are my own and honest.]