Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Title: The Liar's Weave
Author: Tashan Mehta
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
Pages: 330

Zahan Merchant is born in 1904 to a Parsi family in Bombay. In this alternate world, the lives of humans are written in the stars, and mapped and charted by powerful astrologers, In-Betweens, who can tell you the year in which you will die and the facts of your life, based on the date, time and place of your birth. In their words, Everything happens, as it should happen, because it has already happened.

But the astrologers are powerless to interpret Zahan’s future, for, it seems, that the gods erred this once and Zahan has been born without one, or more accurately, and confusingly as astrologer Narayan Tarachand discovers, with almost infinite futures.

Tarachand takes the problem to his In-between friends, Krishna and Svasa.

The error of the gods gives Zahan his power: he can alter the weave of the future with his lies, a talent he discovers at age 7. It is a secret that he shares only with older brother, Sorab.

But there is a catch. Sometimes it is a power he has, and sometimes, it’s a power that frightens him. For he cannot see the realities he creates for others. Knowing the truth nullifies the effect of the lie.

There is a forest, Vidroha (Hindi for protest, rebellion), deep in the heart of Bombay, which is home to the hatadaiva, the ill-fated. Here Yaatri, a nomad from the Banjara tribe; Liling, Chinese medicine woman; acrobat Tamarin and his wife, Jia, both from the circus, hold court, inspired by Niyat, half-man, half-legend. They give succour to other ill-fated, while yearning to break the stranglehold of fate.

Yaatri meets Zahan and his best friend, Porthos, both 16, and invites them into Vidroha, hoping Porthos will re-write their fate. Meanwhile, the Sapta Puri, the seven holy universities, are equally interested in Zahan and how he alters the weft and warp of life.

Already new realities are coming about. Fortunates are suffering; the ill-fated have flashes of luck. But can you interfere with reality without suffering the consequences?

Vidroha’s desire to change their destinies will destroy lives. And neither Zahan nor Tarachand, who uses Zahan’s power to his own advantage, will come out of this unscathed.

The novel integrates ancient Indian myths with Hindu mythology, creating characters and locales that are part-truth and part-fiction, interspersing the mundane with the cosmic. It shows us how the lives of human beings pan out, while the astrologers attempt to play god. These are lines for us, lives for them, Tarachand chides himself. And yet, as the omniscient narrator reminds us, No matter what the wisdom of the stars, human imagination is stronger.

As a premise, it is intriguing and frightening. In the wrong hands, a power like Zahan’s could wreck lives. Horoscopes and birth charts are one belief that Parsis take as seriously as Hindus. But in this world, it seems, that everyone is held captive to the birth chart.

The story is written in the present tense, in the third person PoV of the characters. Interspersed with the main narrative are excerpts from Tarachand’s book, The Perspective of an In-between.

The similes used in the writing are earthy. Beard like unspun cotton. The prose is evocative, stylized, not as ordinary people might speak. But this is a fantastic world, and so it feels right.

The novel is set in Hindu Colony, Parsi Colony and in Vidroha, besides Benares. The writing in Vidroha is rich and dense, decadent and lush, while that in the two residential colonies is almost genteel, sparse and succinct, in comparison.

The story is set against the backdrop of the struggle against the British for independence. Zahan initially wants to use his dancing tongue to guide the fate of his country. But the struggle for Independence is merely a placeholder. In this alternate world, the astrologers study individual lives; they will not study the fate of the country, the narrator tells us.

There are a few historical facts that come up. The fact that the British introduced the Criminal Tribes Act, a piece of legislation that threatened the diversity of India and pronounced Yaatri and his people, the Banjaras, and hundreds of other tribes criminal.

Beyond a few cursory mentions, the author tells us nothing about it. And that made me feel cheated. Why not just make it a story about a boy who can lie the truth into existence? Why bring the fate of a country into the mix, if you do not mean to take it to its just conclusion?

The names of the leading characters, Yaatri, Tamarin, Liling, Umaan were unreal, fictional, and yet they seemed relatable. Yaatri signifies the journey, Porthos is a character from The Three Musketeers, while Zahan is as Yaatri describes him, Zzzz-haan. Like a bee and an exhale.

The characters have their own compulsions. Porthos wants to know if he is hatadaiva. The others in Vidroha want their ill-fortune transformed.

Tarachand, whose future decrees that he could be Dagdhavasta, head of Sapta Puri, is bothered by the anomaly of Zahan. If the gods have missed him, what else have they missed? If the gods have intended him, what is the purpose of that intention?

The author, young as she is, has a firm grasp of the emotions of the characters, as they struggle in vain to live their lives. The bond between the two brothers, Zahan and Sorab, was poignant, and I felt for Zahan, and the loss of his relationship with Sorab.

The world is being made anew, with every word from a liar’s mouth.

The author treats us to the psychology of the lie. You cannot, absolutely cannot, break eye contact… You must believe your lie, with every ounce of fibre you possess. Love it, nurture it, trust it.

The best lies are the ones between two truths.

What is a lie but a fictional story? And here, stories are described as The currency of your soul.

The novel teases you, confuses you but you bide your time, for as the narrator has told you, Secrets have to ripen before they can be diced; mysteries brew before they clear.

My beloved St Xavier’s College features in this book. Beyond it, it was fascinating to read about Bombay, my favourite city. This city lost so much of its character when its spirit was quelled, and it was asked to keep mum.


Why is it always women who are asked to shut up?

I was sorry to see Zahan go, at the end of the book. There seemed so much more that would happen in his life. Surely the gods would not let him go his peaceful way.

What is that thing they say about a liar? 
Once a liar... always a liar.

(I received a free copy of this book from Juggernaut Books for the purpose of a fair and honest review.)

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