At the heart of "Flickering Flames" is a love story, a love so unspoken, unexpressed and understated that you start doubting if it really exists. But in the very last chapter of the book - on the second last page to be precise - the romance again comes alive, leaving the readers with a happy open-ending that seems as good as a closure.
At the heart of "Flickering Flames" is also the city of Lucknow, a city whose fragrance comes across in the unhurried pace of the book`s central characters, in the backdrop of their simple, well-mannered conversations and in their almost uneventful yet contented lives.
At the heart of "Flickering Flames" is also a take on journalism, its constant pressures and moments of joy, the free parties, the professional jealousy, the editorial-management divide and the inevitable edit bloopers.
But in the end, it`s the story of Aditya, a regular, uncomplicated, well-meaning guy. The three elements -- love, Lucknow and journalism -- are only secondary. One could have wished for a little more love and little less know-how on how a newspaper functions, but one can`t blame first-time author Rajnish Sharma, a long-time journalist, for giving in to the temptation.
Much of the story unfolds in flashback -- 34 of the 40 chapters to be precise.
Aditya joins a yet-to-be launched newspaper in Lucknow. The employees are an odd assortment of characters, right from the fun-loving leg-pulling star reporter Sid to cranky old-horse Rameez to the immensely dumb and caricatured Misras (plural).
Enter Shenaz, mesmerising, magnificent, mystical at once, but Muslim, married and a mother. One expects sparks to fly, but they don`t. One expects a passionate, immoral affair, but no. A little tingling sensation creeps in, a little tossing and turning in the night, a sweet companionship develops, but nothing more on the face of it.
Through their evening walks, we discover Lucknow, the bylanes of Chowk, the chic Hazratganj, the rickshaw and tempo rides and the quintessential chats.
Meanwhile, the yet to be released newspaper has a golden start. Enthusiasm and bonding are aplenty before both circulation and editorial control starts falling.
The affair also disappointingly dooms when Aditya good-naturedly says: "I wish one didn`t have to wait to get married to have a daughter" on seeing a colleague suddenly walking into office with his daughter. Shenaz unreasonably looks in "shock and disbelief", their little unexpressed if-it-could-be-called-love ends. She quits, leaving you more irked than the lead protagonist.
But in a kind of end that is the reserve of fairy tale romances, destiny brings the two together in Mauritius in a publication.
In 144 pages, the book tries to do too many things and in the process is not able to do justice to every aspect. It`s a ride that seems to take you past a picturesque landscape; only it doesn`t give you time to stop and soak in the beauty.
At the heart of "Flickering Flames" is a humble story; only it doesn`t have the depth to move and stay with you after you toss the book aside.