My situation at that point was, I was almost two hours from home with no charge in phone and no charge in the power bank. I popped into the nearest bookstore in the vicinity, Crossword I think(the Emami one) and I took the book Sialkot Saga. Well, this one of the most intellectually taxing novels which I read recently. I know that the author is a big name in Indian historic fantasy, but I actually forgot what he wrote.
The story is not in the usual tone, this novel gives an impression that the author is devoid of further ideas in this track and wants to change the genre of his books from historic fantasy to family or crime drama. The story is about two persons, approximately of the same age – one, a Muslim from the slums of Mumbai, graduating to the head of Mumbai Mafia and the other, a high class Bengali becoming one of the best cheaters in Indian business. Both of their paths criss-cross all the life, both pitting against each other, each trying to beat the other with their ingenuity. As if this is not sufficient, Arvind Bagadia’s lover is Arbaaz Sheik’s wife. All this happens in the backdrop of incoherent historic episodes, without even giving a hint of what it is all about. Everything ends with the same chant and a book with jellyfish symbol on the cover.
Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action – Goldfinger, a James Bond villian
We can use that statement to highlight the fact that repeating the same thing again and again will be too taxing on the reader. The sequence of events in the book is as if the author opened India’s history text book post independence and placed either of the characters, preferably Arvind Bagadia at every event from arrest of Shyam Prasad Mukherjee to the Munjal episode to Harshad Mehta to 1984 Sikh riots to Purulia arms drop to everything. Too many coincidences, too much influence on Indian history – this is more immature, this is for an author trying to identify his writing style. And the last of the sequence of these events – Mumbai terror attacks. Both Arbaaz Sheikh and Arvind Bagadia are killed in Taj Mahal Hotel. For gods sake, Arbaaz Sheikh is India’s Railway Minister. Where the hell is his security detail, where the hell is his exit route? Common sense says that a mafia don that powerful will get a Z plus or at least Z for him, meaning there is a rapid action force ready to retaliate the attacks. Nothing such happens, they just become fodder to the incoming bullets.
And then the end. Arbaaz Sheikh and Arvind Bagadia are brothers, one adopted by their parents, separated during partition. Their mother replaced Mahashiv Baba as the head of Jivan Prakash. When both of them died at 66, are we saying that their mother is 90? And she still roams all around, even capable of climbing a remote mountain monastery in Bhutan at that age. And Mahashiv Baba is Lord Hanuman himself. And he happily accepts that he will serve the role of a guinea pig. Only at the last stage, we understand what exactly links the historic chapters from Asoka to Ranjit Singh through anyone and everyone of note in India – Samudragupta, Harsha, Sri Krishna Devaraya, Martanda Varma have used the initial research using these guinea pigs to get tremendous amount of gold to fund their wars and that none thought seriously or everyone failed to gauge the real purpose – make a person immortal. Using Indian historic scriptures to find an elixir of immortality, that too without carving an investigative path? Well, it just exists and we are supposed to be surprised over the dramatic unfolding of the story.
The progress of the story is a bit slow and boring but except for the climax, the book is a decent read. But, whether it is worth the money, I dare not answer.