I am still in two minds over this–did I or did I not like this book on the whole? I liked some parts, didn’t like some others, and they cancelled each other out–if you know what I mean!
The good part first. You have to give it to Ashwin Sanghi–he did his homework well. A little too well, if you ask me. A lot of research must have gone into collecting all the information you are bombarded with throughout this alternative history/ conspiracy thriller– interesting stuff even though much of it is barely related to the plot and some of it is completely tangential and superfluous. The parallel narrative of Krishna’s story which precedes each of the 108 chapters is fascinating, although they do tend to divert your attention from the main story.
The bad part? The meandering and feeble plot. The murders which keep happening all appear to be rather pointless and lacking a motive stronger than the whim of a psychopath. The novel is heavily inspired by The DaVinci Code but Sanghi is unable to pull it off. It isn’t that easy to do a Dan Brown!
Ravi Mohan Saini, a professor of History at the St. stephen’s College, New Delhi, is an expert on the Early Vedic period. He is given an ancient seal for safekeeping by his friend Anil Varshney. The seal is part of a set of four, the other three being with three other men. Soon afterwards Varshney is found murdered and Saini turns out to be the last person to have seen him alive. The needle of suspicion comes to rest on Saini, specially in the light of the seal being found in his possession.
Saini is forced to go on the run, trying to prove his innocence. For that he must get the other three seal-recipients to testify to his innocence–too bad for him that all of them are killed by the mystery serial killer before they can come around to doing that.
And what exactly makes those ancient seals so terribly important as to cause one murder after another? Nobody seems to have the foggiest idea–all they know is that the seals hold the clue to the secret location of something that belonged to Krishna that he wanted to preserve for posterity. That is apparently enough to set off everyone on a wild goose chase.
After a lot of beating around the bush, a lot of wild conjectures (one of them being about ancient DNA samples being preserved on Mount Kailash, for instance) and plenty of false leads, it finally transpires in the second half of the book that the seals allude to the location of the ancient philosopher’s stone, the elusive Syamantak. So where is the Syamantak–at Somnath? Mount Kailash? How about Agra?
It’s a little funny how Saini, even while being on the run and with his own life under grave threat, launches into rambling lectures on the superiority of the ancient Indian civilization at the drop of a hat. At more than one point I half wished someone would thwack him on the head and tell him to go run for his life 🙂
Too many maybe-s and probably-s get bandied about in the name of an alternative interpretation of history, on the basis of rather feeble premises. Sample this– the city at Mohenjo Daro was probably destroyed in an atomic blast. The brahmastra mentioned in the Mahabharata was very likely a nuclear device. Dwarka might have been the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Mount Kailash is probably a–hold your breath–man-made pyramid.Cloning was probably prevalent in ancient India–think Raktabeeja, the demon who would arise anew from every drop of his blood!! To me it all sounded suspiciously like right wing propaganda.
Worth one read is what I’ll say. You might like the book if you’re a big fan of the historical fiction/thriller genre, but be prepared to be disappointed by the lame ending.