Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Krishna Key by Aswin Sanghi: Book Review

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Are you a lover of thrillers? Have your senses adapted enough to understand the line where characters and plot become one and where characters trace their trajectories straight into the readers’ hearts? This second question is especially complicated, since even some writers cannot point out where this line is. The best demonstrative strategy is to take you to some of the books as instances that unsettled the world and left it on the mercy of imaginative survival; The Da Vinci Code for example or Hunger Games. We loved their story line, their plot and of course, Robert Langdon or Katniss Everdeen, they are vulnerable and their pain is intimate for us.

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The Krishna Key is based on conspiracy theories that suggest that the Vedic civilization is the mother of all civilizations. Aswin Sanghy compares the idea of a supreme and extremely developed civilization to the lost city of Atlantis. By doing this he ascertains the significance of an all pervasive Vedic impact in all wakes of modern demographic as well as technological advancements. Aswin Saghi connects all the conspiracy theories and academic research through a fictional narrative, which feels artificial and intentional.

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The Krishna Key is Aswin Sanghi’s third book, his first two being The Rozabal Line and Chanakya’s Chant. Published by Westland, the book bears, much to its own damage, the ominous label “Thriller” on its back cover. A professor of History, Ravi Mohan Saini, who as the readers realize later, possesses skills of a wannabe detective, can be taken as the protagonist of the story, although there are no scenes in this novel which suggests any one character dominates the ideological as well as structural aspects of the novel. The Krishna Key is all about a search to find a powerful object hidden from Vedic times by the lineage of Krishna, the yadava chief. Although at the start of the novel, this powerful object seems to be  a weapon, later, as the novel progresses, Sanghi tell his readers that this object is not a weapon, instead something else with immense potential to transform things. More comments on this regard might spoil the plot for future readers. Even the book begins with a warning that looking into diagrams and the pages to come might spoil the plot. On many occasions the progress of the story is not natural, but from the author’s hidden squeeze to the plot.     

Ravi Mohan Saini has three friends, one of which was murdered in the start of the novel. The murders continue until the end of the book, and even Ravi himself was fatally wounded once and locked up to die towards the end of the story. But murders or blood do not grab the attention as much the historic and mythical connection Sanghi unearths among these characters and their lives, crossed at the chaotic juncture in the present day India. Taarak Vakil is a psychotic serial killer, who believes him to be the Kali avatar of Vishnu, which is the tenth avatar of the Hindu god of ‘sthithi’ or preservation and sustenance of the universe. At each spot of his murder, Taarak leaves a Sanskrit verse and on the forehead of his each victims a sign of Vishnu, such as the mace, lotus, conch, etc. The motive of Taarak to do all these killings is still unclear and that invariably affects the plot of the story as well. As I said before, the author in more than one occasion just squeezes it out. All characters are possessed by the urge to either find the mysterious object or to catch Taarak and his ally, his Mathaji. Which of the above mentioned motives potentially drive them toward the end of the story, however, or to reveal all the pseudo science aka conspiracy theories is a question that weakens the quality of the novel.  
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Through out the plot of the novel, Sanghi also investigates the concept of Vish and Shiv, asserting the vedantic principle that they both are one and the same. Vishnu is the Supreme Being and Krishna being Vishnu’s avatar had brought to the earth with him some secret powers. The Krishna Key is the search for this power, hidden somewhere in India. Ravi and the police inspector Radhika Singh, who in first part of the story chases Ravi as he was accused of the murder of his friends for the possession of the seal of Vishnu, chases the real killer through Kailas to a Vrindavan Temple destroyed by Aurangazeb, the Mughal ruler. Radhika tries to protect Ravi from Kalki.    

The story begins from the finding of four clay tablets from the ancient Dwaraka submerged under the sea somewhere near Gujrat(a theme Sanghi apparently borrowed from the History Channel documentary “Ancient Aliens”) and ends at supposedly showing reader what the legacy of Krishna to mankind was. Although at the end of the book a reader might wonder what his legacy actually is—the message delivered by a couple of saints in a mysteriously esoteric manner, “The Philosopher is important not the stone,”  or the mysterious object itself.

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According to Sanghy, the Vedic civilization possessed occult as well as scientific advancements such as nuclear weapons, one of which is well know as the ‘brahmastra’ used during the battle of Kurukshetra. Even though the characters are disappointingly flat and stereotypic in their attempts to do be unique, such as Radhika Singh who recites the name of Hari all the time in her mind and counts the beads in her rosary or Ravi who appears to be a mere mouth piece of the author eager to tell readers what all material he had researched to write this book. In fact The Krishna Key robs Krishna of his godly image and leaves him human and political. “…replied Saini; “Krishna was a great statesman and strategist. He probably led a rather series life.” (320-321)

Ideas such as India is the cradle of all civilization and that all the modern technological advancements including, airplanes, computers and the internet were developed in India for the first time, but in some ancient past, are part of a propagandist language present in the country from a long time.
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The technique of Aswin Sanghi in this novel very much resembles his previous one, Chanakya’s Chant, which juxtaposed the Mauryan age story (which was again ‘inspired’ or lifted as they say, apparently, as Sanghi himself acknowledges in the works cited page of his book) with the story of a political upheaval in the centre of Indian democracy. In Krishna Kay, Sanghi pastes the summarized version of Mahabarata in the beginning of each chapter. This doesn’t necessarily appear a hindrance to any sort of aesthetic appreciation of the novel. On the other hand it gives the readers a fairly good informative background in Mahabarata. This along with the works cited list at the back of the book provides information plus entertainment. As a novel The Krishna Key with all the hypotheses and conspiracies cramped together, forgets about the human beings that live within its fictional and cultural space. It acknowledges the history but forgets the lives on which it had been written.
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If anyone feels inclined to find in The Krishna Key a similarity with The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons by Dan Brown in its ambition, it’s not merely a coincidence, but intentional. The novel is ambitious but never rises from the bottom level in delivering it. If The Da Vinci Code reminds us of The Krishna Key in some ways, it will be as an incomparable dupe. 

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Friday, October 26, 2012

City Thieves

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Cannanore will soon become a big city, but right now, it is a small town, where people still prefer having their tea, coffee and meals from coffee houses that stinks of urine, sweat and smoke. This is not the only reason for naming it small.

Every city is like a human being. And like humans, cities have thoughts as well. Cannanore town is small is its thoughts too. Thoughts of a city are its streets. The streets in Cannanore city are quite narrow and thus I deduced my conclusion that it is indeed a small in city, small in size and small in mind.

In this small town, one evening, a coffee house was busy as a slaughter house. The slaughter house imagery partially owes its credit to the way people’s faces looked after their sojourn inside the houses for tea or meals and their puffed up pot bellies and partly it owed to the vast number of people flowing in and out.

A person in a wrinkled grey shirt walked faster towards the entrance. He placed the bill on the cashier’s table and paid the amount with changes. Without stopping there, he paced forward.

And old man suddenly came ahead from behind him and caught hold of his right hand. The man in grey shirt startled and looked back. Once he saw the old man, he dragged him forward and moved out of the coffee house to the footpath that bordered the main road and the coffee house.
“Leave me!” The man in grey shirt said. His voice was hoarse and eyes were staring at the old man.
“I know what you did there in the crowd. I saw you stealing that woman’s gold chain. Give it to me, or I will call the police,” Said the old man.
“No, YOU might have done it. I didn’t. I am not a thief,” the man said. It was not a shout, but his voice was thick enough to convey the message that he was not an easy pass for anyone that came across.
The old man stared at the grey shirt man. His eyes were not particularly powerful in their physical appearance, but they were fearless.
“Didn’t you hear me? YOU might have done it! YOU…YOU… I didn’t. Now leave my hand.”
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Still, stare in return.

“Leave…leave me,” and the grey shirt man started puling, and wriggling his hand free. But right then, the old man shouted again, his right hand, tight as glued to the hand of the grey shirt man, “I WILL CALL THE POLICE!”

Silence.

The man in grey shirt stopped trying to wriggle away. It seemed impossible. The grip got harder and harder and more than the grip it was the old man’s staring eyes that did some harm; they were penetrating. Also the man in grey shirt had seen the people around them started noticing their struggle. Although at first it might have seemed a friendly meeting, not it was taking a violent turn.
“OK...OK…If I give it to you, will you leave me then? Old man?”
Even though the thief had addressed him, old man, he did not look above 60. His hair was full white, though. And that gave an impression that the epithet of the thief sounded apt.

“I was a teacher, now retired. It had been my job all my life to tell my students to take the path of truth and love. I won’t hand you over to the police, because I know they don’t know how to treat people like you. But I won’t leave you either. I would want a talk with you, alone. Agreed?”

“Double OK!” the thief said without a moment’s hesitation and gave the old teacher a chain of gold.
“Why do you put it in your pocket? Go and give it to that woman!” said the thief seeing the old man’s left hand going inside his pocket.
“That woman is my wife. She went to the nearest vegetable shop to purchase some goods, after the tea we had. She doesn’t even know that her chain is stolen. It was I who found it. Otherwise, you would have escaped with it,” the old teacher said.  
“Ok. Then talk,” the thief said restless.

“What is your name? And why do you steal?”
“To feed my wife, who is very young and has not learnt any art to survive, yet. And oh, my name is Habeeb,” the man in grey shirt said.  
“Why don’t you do any other work?”
“They ask for religion, cast and contacts and sometimes experience.”
“Don’t you have any of them?”
“Yes, I do have, but what I have, is not preferable in terms of acceptance.”
“What…what did you say?” the old teacher sneered at him. The words the thief said did not fit well coming from his mouth. They were words of the learnt… what I have, is not preferable in terms of acceptance.

“You trying to infuriate with those high words?” the old teacher was angry, this time.
“No, I did not! I am sorry, if it felt that way.” the thief said, that too sounded incongruous. He seemed a man of rough features and lack of any learning, but those words and now this sorry, all seemed out of the world with him.
“You don’t expect me to talk like this? I know. But do you realize now, what those people out there selling jobs might have barked at me with when they listened to what I had to say?” the thief said with a smile.
“Why don’t you find a better job and stop stealing other’s property?” sneering at the thief, the old man asked.
“What job do you mean?”
“Sell something, or try to get a government job. As a person with such wisdom, you sure will get one.”
 “You see that orange seller there?”
“Ya”
“Can you tell me what profit means, for him?”
“The money he earns after selling his goods.”
“How does he earn it?”
“By selling oranges in prices that are higher than what he had bought them for.”
“What do the clerks in the government offices do in Cannanore right now, when it is just half past four in the evening and a lot of works can be done? Night is still hours away.”

Silence.

“I know what makes you quiet, teacher,” the thief said. “Most people in government offices know nothing about the needs of the needy or what it means to be really hungry.”
“So?” the teacher asked; now calm.
“The orange seller tells everyone that his oranges are Rs: 40 a kilo when he had actually bought it for twenty. Do you know what that means?”

The old man tried to think it through. He felt his head reeling. There was a major crisis in front of him. At this moment, everything he had taught his students all his life supporting civilized life, against stealing or any other injustice, turned into a chaos. He covered his face with both his hands and wiped his face hard. Perhaps that had felt good. Opening his eyes, he said, “You are…” but before completing his words he realized that Habeeb, the thief in grey shirt, had vanished.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Yash Chopra: Obituary—too Limited a Word

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Obituary is too limited a word. One could not find a label if one scrolled down the left column in this blog that reads “Obituary”. There are many articles, poems and anecdotes about people who passed away, but none of those attempts to honour their memories can are called obituaries. This is not just because these pieces of literatures were written not exclusively in a style apt commonly to obituaries that one reads in newspapers. There is one more reason, one undoubtedly unearthly, uncommon reason. It’s the conception of death itself.

Yash Chopra, the maker of classics in Indian movie screen, transcended into another dimension today. Death is not a word that one could use for him. He has an upcoming film, which people across the world wait for release; he is known as a franchise in the film industry and is a bearer of many more titles as an individual. How can it be concluded that a so-called ‘dead man’ has an upcoming movie? How can a franchise die?  

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Many philosophers and Wise Masters called for a necessity to understand death. Books were written and perused all over the world and in all the cultures around the world on this concept. In short, to pick a gist from all the literatures written on death, it is a transition, a moment when a person(s) transcends into another realm beyond the time bound, space related reality. This is much closer to the concept of love. Love is a thread that binds all lives. Love implores us above all to have a glimpse of the life before death.

Many of the movies Yashji directed were loaded with just one theme, love. Even if it is in his action thrillers like ‘Deewar’ or romance movies such as ‘Veer Zara’ he lauded the prime element of life—love. ‘Dhool ka Phool’, a social drama was his debut movie as a director. It was in 1959.  In 1973 Chopra founded his own movie production, Yash Raj Films. In 1972 it launched a successful melodrama ‘Daag: A Poem of Love’.

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Indian film industry has seen Yash Raj films and especially Mr. Chopra as a crucial contributor to its gallons of movie soups. He set the action thriller trend in Bollywood with Amitab Bachan’s angry young man role in ‘Deewar’, in the mid seventies. Then a surge of romances in nineties, with Shahrukh Khan, starting with ‘Dil to Pagal Hai’ (1997), which is yet to wash its mighty tide on the minds of his fans with the upcoming ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, which might be released in the November of 2012.

This event will be marked in the history of Bollywood not just as a moment of loss of an entertainment mogul, but the passing away of a sun-like figure in the world of movie making in India. Of course, if he were dead.

If one looks at death as a moment of transcendence, it is surely going to mean a lot for a lover of Indian movies, especially Bollywood. Yash Chopra’s influence and creative spirit are going to be experienced and appreciated in the times to come too. Jab tak hai jaan, until there is life.   

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fractured Legend: A Book Review

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Fractured Legend is Kranthi Askani’s debut novel. The title, Fractured Legend well represents the broken and ill tendered state of the plot. The book incorporates magic realism, gothic elements as per the blurb piece.

Fractured Legend opens with a statues deliquescing, in the Book 1, “Slave”. The novel is presented in three books. Book 1 is titled “Slave”. Book 2 is called “Manuscript” and Book 3 is “A Very Long Letter”. Book 1, book 2 and book 3 are split into three chapters each. Fractured Legend connects the story of four women in a string of narratives, in which magical realism and gothic elements play a disastrous role, leaving the plot murky, uninteresting and impossible to associate with (intellectually or emotionally).

Two more artistic techniques remain surprisingly traceable in the work. One is absurdism. Absurdity lurches upon you from the first chapter of the Book 1. The non-presence of action is one of the reasons this element of absurdity dominates this chapter. Absurdism, however, does not  seem to be intentional in the craft of the author. The whole first chapter in the Book 1 does not  even start the main action of the story. This chapter revolves around the precincts of the hopeless lives of the characters the narrator fishes out from her memory. This postpones the main action farther, leaving the sense of a lack of purpose extremely evident. It is in this sense absurdity becomes strikingly evident.   

Second is the stream of consciousness. Priyambada, the narrator in Book 1 “Slave”, recounts many of her experiences and it leaves an impression much like it is stream of consciousness. The Book 2 and 3 also are full of details of abstract thoughts presented with least art and full of ambition. These two ideas—absurdism and stream of consciousness—are not elaborated in the blurb, not even mentioned once.

In the eighth page, Priyambada thinks about a man who extols the divinity of the temple. From there her thoughts drift away to the young man, who took her with him to travel all night long to his temple. His flesh too is held in a statue and comes to life only occasionally; much like Priyambada and her companions. Aardya is her close companion, a girl with genuine wits. Priyambada is close to Ardya than any other persons or statues.

Priyambada decides to take a risk with her existence and decides to transform into flesh and continue living a ‘normal’ human life. She is shown as taking this theme forward; however, the extent to which this normality is applicable to her existence is questionable. Priyambada’s life is normal like that you can observe in the conventional ‘normality’ exhibited in bollywood movies and certain daily Hindi soaps.

The Book 2, “Manuscript” is the story of Nandhini. She is a professional in killing people. Her life changes as she accepts the assignment to retrieve a manuscript kept by Ardya, who is reluctant to give away this manuscript. This story follows first person narrative as well. “Manuscript” has a whole different tone from “Slave”. If “slave” is about identity crisis and cliché feminism, the “Manuscript” is about a violent sequence of events that leave the narrator with little room to think elusive and lyrical sentences such as; “We all know that no slave girl ever made it to the end; we know that we are outcasts and are merely seen as amusement pieces, to be cast away like bed bugs,” which we come across in “Slave”.

Book 3 is a long letter written by Pravalli, Priyambada’s daughter, who hates her mother when she comes across the truth that Priyambada was a temple slave once. This story, epistolary in nature, carries no action forward and leaves the readers’ eyes droop with heavy slumber.

Kranthi Askani
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Fractured Legend is published by APK Publishers in 2012 and it costs Rs: 195 only. The printing and lettering of the book give the feeling of reading a compulsory text book prescribed in some pathetic universities.

Askani is a technocrat-turned writer, who deserves some credit for attempting such an endeavour to connect the stories of four women, although as a work of fiction, which is a miserable failure. Askani writes a female centered story, yet the voyeuristic fetish of phallocentrism is quite evident in the petty assertions of naked baths and similar instances.  

Fractured Legend is just another incompetent book on the block of contemporary Indian writings in English. Fortunately it is not a half baked romance.     

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!  
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