by Sreyashi Sen
This is the only book that took me more than three and a half months to finish reading, the only reason being that a book with this depth of research required careful reading and understanding. This isn’t the unputdownable one-flight one-journey bestseller, in spite of the thriller element. The effort in research, the information shared and the pages of history require much more attention and sometimes a few re-readings . . .
It might seem like just an emotional story that we have perhaps all read sometime in our lives — of a daughter’s search across borders for her father. But the story doesn’t remain simple when it is a daughter who is from Pakistan, searching for her father, an army major in the Pakistani army who has been missing for 12 years. It takes on a different tone when the search means that she has to travel into India.
It takes one anonymous call for Rukhsar Ahmed and her beau Aman Khan to make up their minds to put not just their jobs and families but their lives at stake to cross into India and look for Zubair Ahmed. The journey they start, thinking it was just for a few days, takes them to corners of discovery unimaginable, and down paths of history that open their eyes to a reality and revelation like none other. A sinister plot is uncovered which could result in the destruction of millions of lives and topple governments on both sides. And in it, they discover a friend in Prakash Rohatgi who embodies much more than just an apparent friendship.
What is striking about the book is the research. While the writing is lucid and easy, the facts are deep, and the book needs, at times, a few readings, because of the details. The book would need concentration and patience to read as it is not just a fast-paced thriller. The author has put in 5 years of research to bring out facets of history, religion and scholarly information while trying to break all this down into palatable digestible novel material. Some parts do seem a bit too heavy and create an imbalance in the story by taking the thrill away and leaning too much on the informative. At other places, there is some information that gets heavy and sometimes preachy for a novel, and one might need to turn away to take a breather for a few days before getting back. Yet it is also what brings you back with intrigue to pick up the book and read on.
The book gives the feel of weaving history lessons for the future generation, and yet, the irony that the next generation has little patience beyond 20 minutes of intense information crosses the mind too.
While there is much information, and the book falls into the category of serious weighty literature in its over 500 pages, the plot flows through the present and past across the borders fluidly with many twists and turns. There is treachery, deceit, love, faith, belief and death. There is patriotism and enmity and in it all, a hope of trust and a belief in goodness.
The last 20 pages have pathos and emotion that can bring questions of a life lived and humanity in its entirety. What is most hair-raising is that the book makes you wonder if at all this is fiction . . . the “what-ifs” cross the mind over and over. Does Truth (Satya) indeed liberate?
Informative, powerful and enough plots for a few Bollywood blockbusters, if not one! As I turned the last pages of this 530-page thriller, the words below echoed out loud . . .
“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
― Mark Twain