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. 

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