Author: Mainak Dhar
I shudder to think of what might happen if the premise of Mainak Dhar's Zombiestan were to come true. Of course, the plot isn't an original one, having been picked to shreds by Hollywood. But there is an original twist to the familiar theme here. Besides, books always had the quality of being more real to me, more real even than the world of movies, which is always the imagination of other people. In this case, an imagination fed by your own fears is far more real and frightening.
The plot runs like this. Even as the modern world reels under the assault mounted by terror organisations, no one has the slightest idea that things are about to get infinitely worse. The horror begins with undead Talibanis who bite others and begin to spread the evil. Very quickly the terror spreads to all parts of the world and governments quake and tumble as life and humanity become the first casualties.
Five unlikely people, including a US Navy Seal, an elderly history professor, a 17-year old school boy, a 15-year old girl and her 3-year-old brother, are thrown together in their quest to keep themselves alive and find succour.
When they find out that the child is immune to the madness, they decide that he must be saved as he is the only chance that the world has. They begin a journey to a place in Ladakh in the Himalayas that promises to offer safety.
Along the way, they meet many dangers, human and inhuman, and it takes the four grownups every ounce of energy and courage they have to fight against these dangers.
The pace of the book never faltered for me. I was so carried away that I even managed to break my 15-year self-imposed ban of never reading in a moving vehicle. I just had to learn what was going to happen next and how this completely unlike group of characters would succeed in outrunning the nightmare that threatened to catch up with them.
Of course there were some things which remained unexplained. I wish Dhar had taken the time to tie up those loose ends. Why does a small three-year-old boy hold a key to the cure? Also, how did those assorted chemicals unleash such a disaster? And how does the shouting of the single word, jihad, and the tying of the black turban further the Talibani cause?
The characters are interesting, with credible back stories. The young hero, Mayukh, begins the journey as an unwilling one. Consumed by guilt at never having proved himself a responsible son to his parents, he learns to find reserves of strength within himself. It helps that he was trained to shoot by his bureaucrat father.
The sense of the futility of fighting against an enemy that never tires, but gets stronger by the moment, even as their own defences are steadily getting used up and giving way to fatigue overpowers the reader.
To Dhar’s credit, the budding romance is kept low-key, as it ought to be between two youngsters who besides experiencing the emotion called Love for the very first time are also grappling with an extreme peril. One that has destroyed the world as we know it, and led to chaos.
This book is written for young adults, but no matter what your age, don’t let that stop you from picking it up and reading it cover to cover.