Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: The Krishna Key

The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi falls in the category of conspiracy theory fiction. The fact that it has to compete with such giants like Faucault’s Pendulum or Da Vinci Code makes the task of the writer difficult. But Sanghi has already proven his mettle in story telling with already a best seller Chanakya’s Chant in his credit. Thus the expectation from this novel is sky high. As the name indicates, the novel is an adrenalin ride based on the life of Krishna, the most enigmatic character in Indian mythology. It reads in between the lines of Mahabharatha, Bhagavatha and many other ancient scriptures and tries to tell a story of treasure hunters whose fate lies on solving the clues provided in them.  
The biggest issue with Indian history is its ambiguity. Our ancient history is never recorded in a factorial manner like Greek or Roman history. There are only loose versions of events and personalities spread over many epics, scriptures and folklores. Many incidents are exaggerated, many are subdued and most are allegorized thus leaving many black holes in the narrative. Half baked and prejudiced historic studies in Colonial times also worsened the ambiguity. This gives ample scope for writers to reinterpret the events and form conspiracy theories. Sanghi uses this to his advantage by using up almost all the conspiracy theories related to Indian mythology in his narrative.
A man claiming to be Kalki Avataar, the last of ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, is on a killing spree. A Professor with expertise in Ancient Indian History is framed for the crimes. His only chance of survival now lies in solving a mystery from past. Along with him or against him in the rat race are some curious personalities with motives of their own- greed, love, loyalty, revenge and piety. An underworld don with a curious lineage, a stubborn lady police officer, a corrupt CBI officer who will do anything for money, a criminal lawyer and so on… Lead by Saini gathering clues from Indian mythology and History, they are on a dangerous journey to uncover a secret from past that can render every modern technology obsolete.
The Krishna Key uses every conspiracy theory and controversial historical theories perpetrated in the subcontinent to prove its point. In Umberto Eco’s novel Faucault’s Pendulum there is a very interesting observation about conspiracy theories. It is very easy to make a connection between too seemingly unconnected events if one has a superficial but wide knowledge and good imagination. In that novel some men starts making a new conspiracy theory for fun and it goes out of their hands, finally they themselves believing the lies. Here too this complex is evident. Every bit of historical information, however farfetched it may seem, is made to bear a connection to Krishna. I am not making this point to demean the work of its immense readability, because in this genre, this quality is a must to make the novel interesting.

The Krishna Key as I have told is very readable thanks to the fast pace, clever plot twists and diverse information thrown at the reader in regular intervals bewildering them. One negative point about the narration is its lack of good characterization. One does not feel a bit for Saini or any other character however deep distress they are in. But this deficiency is mostly covered up by the ambiance that Krishna Key creates in reader’s mind. It takes us into several mystery- laden and exotic places in the subcontinent. I would definitely suggest this novel to people who loves page turners.  

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Acidic Wit: Stories by Saki (H H Munroe)

Saki is one writer who brings back memories of High School English classes- memories of several teachers with their different styles and methodologies, different (mis)pronunciations, mannerisms and different levels of interest they evoke. Saki or H. H. Munro was a regular story writer featuring every year in our English text books. Also if we take any anthology of English short stories, one story by him is a must. So when I saw a collection of Complete Short Stories I grabbed it eagerly and devoured it. 

The book contains stories from five of his collections. The first two Reginald and Reginald In Russia, features his famous character Reginald. He is a young guy, outspoken and infatuated with his own good looks. Theme of all these stories is his unfruitful and embarrassing (for others around him) social interactions. Third collection, The Chronicles of Clovis features Clovis Sangrail, another clever youngster always making elaborate practical jokes much to the discomfort of other civilized beings of society around him. The Beasts and Super Beasts is a collection that involves stories concerning nature. Other two collections – The Toys of Peace and The Square Egg are his early works and stories published posthumously. The stories are readable though comes nowhere near stories from other collections.

Just like many other story writers of his time, the stories by Saki are predominantly humorous. He satirizes the social structure of his times. What makes his stories different from his contemporaries is his scant regard to political correctness and absence of any contempt to his characters. Most of thestories are of pranks played by someone onan unsuspecting victim and in most of the cases the fun causes some sort of permanent damage tothe victim. We never see any poetic justice happening in them. The satire is acidic. Saki makes fun of the pompous upper class, aspiring middle class and struggling lower class alike. These stories thus make a striking social commentary of his times and also to some extent, of ours.