Title: Baramulla Bomber
Author: Clark Prasad
Publisher: Niyogi Books
I have never been so disappointed in a book. The plot was a hodgepodge of subplots, all loosely tied together. It is almost as if an idea that might have been good enough for a short story, at the most a novella, has been stretched over the wide expanse of a novel. By the time you come to the end, it seems like much ado about nothing. Suspense created over what doesn’t seem that big a deal.
The story starts in the 1940s, where a secret group, known as the Cho Skyong in Tibetan, all descendants of royalty, is discussing the possible outcome of a declaration made by Nehru, India’s first prime minister, to the effect that the nation would initiate a referendum on Kashmir. This group, self-styled Guardians hailing from a lineage that has maintained order in the world since ancient times, decides to take action.
Cut to the present. Scientist Dr Nasir, once a student of Oppenheimer, works on the ability to kill through sound. He fashions a weapon that is tested in Kashmir’s Shaksgam valley. His aim is to free Kashmir, but the Chinese general and Pakistani general, who support him, have their own nefarious agenda.
Meanwhile, it becomes apparent that Mansur, a young Kashmiri with a talent for fast bowling, is being groomed to be the Baramulla Bomber. Mansur’s girlfriend, Ahana Yajurvedi, is worried about the disappearance of her mountaineering friends. Following a tip-off from Karl, a Swedish intelligence guy, Adolf, his colleague, is sent to India to discover the truth about the Shaksgam weapon and to keep an eye on Mansur. But time is running out, and the good guys have to race against time to avert disaster.
I must give credit where it is due. Making one thread meaningful through the course of a plot is hard enough. Here Prasad puts together such disparate elements as cricket, metaphysics, history and politics, and the threat of war and terrorism. He shows well his knowledge of cricket and his research on the origin of sound and languages. He manages to get the action sequences right too. The chase sequence at the ski track makes for breathless reading. The wartime strategies also do a great job of inviting the reader in.
Prasad is clearly in his element when it comes to writing a thriller. He never loses his grasp of the tempo, even though the plot and the subplots seem farfetched and impossible. The technique of starting just minutes before the crux of the action in a novel, then backtracking to give the background, and later counting down to the disaster works superbly here. It keeps the reader expecting more.
But the fast pace alone is incapable of saving this book.
The language is far from perfect, and leaves a flavour that is wanting. It is strange to hear Indian colloquialisms out of the mouth of foreigners. The sentence construction is awkward, heavy and convoluted. Punctuation is often absent. The dialogue is weak. The incomplete sentences in the thoughts and speeches of the characters also put you off reading. It is also irritating when characters spell out all their plans in detail in their thoughts. The information rings a false note and completely overthrows the “Show, don’t tell,” dictum.
A thriller is not required to sport beautiful, lyrical prose like literary fiction, but even so Baramulla Bomber sees the reader stumbling over the writing.
Then there are the other errors. On one page, Prasad describes the Chinese general and the Pakistani general as compatriots. In another instance, it seems as if all the main characters are assembled at the United Nations General Assembly. Is the hall really open, as they say, to one-and-all?
Prasad displays his research and knowledge of physics, and his awareness of the Vedas and the Bible. But there are so many instances where the research is absent. Despite having a lead character hailing from the state, barely any ink is used up in describing the famed beauty of Kashmir.
Also, the likelihood that a Swedish or Norwegian Christian would sign themselves In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in Latin is zero at the best of times, let alone at the moment of his death.
Prasad has clearly neglected his homework in many other areas. While rigor mortis sets in a minimum of three hours after death, here two of the characters actually claim to feel the onset of rigor mortis, when they sense that the end is near.
All the cricket commentary was unnecessary in my opinion. It does nothing to take the story forward, and takes away from the thriller element of the story, particularly since this is not a cricket story per se. As a non-lover of cricket, I quickly breezed through the cricket game descriptions.
In one section, dating November 30, Dr Nasir thinks, “The world will see their leaders perish a slow and painful death and no one will know what to do but…I need to find a way to be immune myself in order to execute it.” Incidentally, the planned date of the execution is December 11, and as late as November 30, the man admits that he needs to work on his own immunity. It is the same level of unpreparedness, of not having thought things through, that characterises the writing of this book.
There is a twist, of course, and for all my annoyance at the demerits of this novel, I will concede that it was handled well with the turn of events taking us by surprise.
But the twist is not enough. The ending of the book is a huge letdown, with the climax being completely anti-climactic.
Having plodded through the 300 pages of what has been described by the author as “the world’s first techno mythology thriller,” I must say that this Baramulla bomber really did bomb, though not quite as Prasad intended it to.
The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on http://thetalespensieve.
com/reviewers-sign-up/">The Tales Pensieve