By Monica Arora
Anuja Chauhan has emerged as one of the most reliable contemporary writers of pop-fiction in recent years, with her effervescent love stories being set against the back drop of cricket in The Zoya Factor or the great Indian election in Battle for Bittora, the third estate in Those Pricey Thakur Girls or as a middle-class drama for property in The House that BJ Built.
The latest to emerge from the keys of her laptop is Baaz, a roaring and riveting love story set against the backdrop of the 1971 war when India helped the Mukti Vahini in East Pakistan (Bangladesh at present) in their war for independence. India joined the war on 3 December 1971, after Pakistan launched preemptive air strikes on North India. The formidable Indian Air Force took control of the eastern theatre of war and eventually the Allied Forces of Bangladesh and India left Pakistan with no choice but to surrender in Dacca on 16 December 1971. The pro-Pak bias of the then US President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was revealed when recently de-classified papers of the 1971 war describe how the American aircraft carrier USS Enterprise had orders to target Indian Army facilities. Baaz draws its climax by citing an episode of the Cold War and makes it a delightful mix of patriotism, romance, drama, cold-blooded action and much comic relief amidst the gritty setting.
Meticulously researched and impeccably executed, the story is that of Ishaan aka Shaanu Baaz Faujdar, the rustic farmer boy from Haryana, and his two buddies Rakesh Agarwal, aka Raka and Madan Subbiah, aka Maddy. The antics of the crazy trio in the Gnats, MiGs and Caribous they respectively fly are so full of adrenalin that every training, every flying lesson and further on, every sortie becomes a heart-stopping event.
Enter Tinka, the La la la Liril girl, who is an emerald-green, itsy-witsy, teeny-weenie, bikini-clad, Parsi model-cum-photographer who sweeps Ishaan off his feet Baaz-ke-maphik and the heat is on from that moment onward. Their smouldering chemistry despite differences in background and personalities and the sizzling action between the sheets sets readers’ pulses racing and the hilarity of the reactions of older family members from both sides adds the needed seasoning to this delicious recipe.
Ishaan is pure Bollywood hero material in his love for his mother, his sense of duty towards his country, his doting brotherly act towards his sisters, his unabashed, in your face dare-devilry and his tender love for Tinka. One ends up rooting for him like a favourite boxer in the rink or a cricketer at the pitch as he carries his heart on his sleeve and his courage as a Param Veer Chakra on his chest. Liberally sprinkled with a mix of Hinglish, Anuja keeps the pace of the narrative throbbing and pulsating with energy and my favourite was train khata-khats or the high pitched “Oooooh teeeeeri” or even “mere sapno ki rani kab aayee GEETU”. Even the names of the characters in the book have a life of their own, what with the flying Instructor being called Wg Commander Carvalho “kuch bhi Carva-lho” and Tehmina “Tell-me-na” Dadyseth.
The main plot revolves around the fictional airbase of Kalaiganga, alluding to the actual Kalaikunda airbase, where the 34th Squadron ‘The Streaks’ were posted and they are inspired by the original 22nd Squadron ‘The Swifts’. Every flight and sortie undertaken by these young Air Force recruits has been described with much technical finesse and breathtaking speed but towards the last one-third portion of the book, when the action shifts to war-torn Dacca, the plot seems to lose some steam. Readers also get an insight into the lifestyles and culture of middle-class and rural Indians back in the seventies owing to the narrative shifting between Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Dacca, Haryana, and so on. Overall it is a delightful read with all the ingredients that pop-fiction demands but the refreshing bit is that Anuja chooses to deviate from her comfort zone of using a prominent woman protagonist and instead chooses an alpha-male to colour the manuscript.
The icing on the cake was meeting the author herself, in fact, the day after she completed the final edits on the manuscript, in Bangalore, earlier in February. I could actually hear Anuja talking to me through the book, such is the transparency in her writing style. Kudos for such a widespread and enamouring canvas and pulling it off so effortlessly and with so much panache!