x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dubai bankers reflect on life without fat bonuses in Bhaskar novel

In his second Jack Patel novel, PG Bhaskar describes the experiences of several Dubai-based financiers who are now coping without the generous bonuses they enjoyed before the recession.

Corporate Carnival
PG Bhaskar
HarperCollins India

There is a moment in Corporate Carnival, PG Bhaskar's second novel, when a group of Dubai-based bankers gloomily contemplate their lot.

Where once their universe was filled with big bonuses, bulging portfolios and even bigger pay packets, now they are weighed down by complicated compliance issues and decidedly opaque corporate structures.

With fire in their stomachs and, more pertinently, the prospect of no year-end bonuses in their wallets, the pack focus their ire on Peter, one of the organisation's top dogs, who seems to have been promoted far beyond his level of incompetence.

As these fragile corporate warriors moan about their absent manager, one of the group chips in with some cod philosophy (expressed in Hindi) about success being dependent on "time time ki baat hai" or "that it's all about being in the right place at the right time".

This is Bhaskar's second instalment of the Jack Patel novels.

A long-term Dubai resident, the author published his well-received debut Jack Patel's Dubai Dreams last year, in which he unfolded the story of Jai (or Jack), an Indian expatriate who makes good in the UAE sunshine before gravity and the great recession brings him crashing down to earth.

By book's end he is back in India, licking his wounds - his Dubai dream turned to a nightmare - before a phone call from his old boss sets up the prospect of a return to these fair shores and, indeed, this bank-busting sequel.

Corporate Carnival's cover breezily announces "Jack is Back" and is adorned by an illustration of the Burj Khalifa steepling into the skies, which might lead the reader to expect another pacy trip through Dubai's most glamorous high-life.

In fact, the book barely pauses for breath in the emirate - throughout, Dubai acts as the transit port rather than the novel's focal point - as Patel hops around the globe searching for a deal to wheel and a customer to sign up.

But, in the post-crash world we live in, all the glitter lost its lustre some time ago.

If Dubai was once impossibly alluring, now it is "sober but not bitter, aware but not drowning in regret". Jack's career path has also been bitten by reality. He knows his role at Abbott-Adriaan Bank is neither the right job, nor did it necessarily arrive at the right time.

He treads water, slowly slipping away from the safety of his job at a "staid bank" until Bhaskar tees up the prospect of some further adventures late in the piece.

There is, however, nothing ponderous about Bhaskar's narrative skills. He is an affable host possessed of an easy, joke-infused writing style, even if the stressed-out, asset-distressed bankers who inhabit his pages aren't laughing quite as hard as they used to.

Maybe the good times will bubble back to the surface when Jack surely returns for part three.