The Cavansite Conspiracy... a novel by Manjiri Prabhu

The Cavansite Conspiracy… a novel by Manjiri Prabhu

Koyal couldn’t hide her surprise. ‘As far as I remember, you had a fantastic collection of classics. When and how did popular literature replace your taste?’
‘When I knew you, I was rather selective in my habits. Over the years, I have matured enough to understand that good fiction can come in any cover and in any form,’ Neel drawled.

Well, Manjiri Prabhu has unbuttoned a definition that confuses many, rather deftly. ‘The Cavansite Conspiracy’ led me on speedily from one page to another like popular fiction does, but unlike conventional chick lit, the book kept on a continuous flow of ideas, analysis, expressions, and generous scoops of human psychology! Thus there were times when I had to stop and think… and debate… and marvel at the ingenuity of the writer. And I do not mean only the simply dizzying twists and turns that cavort on the pages, but the ease with which they are placed where you find them rather gleefully.

As you read the book, you feel as if you are the one who is actually attempting to solve a riddle and you fervently wish you outpace and out-think the writer and reach a conclusion before she does… and then when you are on the verge of some conclusive analysis, you find yourself staring at another twist swishing you off in a new direction! Do I sound spellbound? Well, this could be because I have read a thriller after ages, so all I can say is: Go ahead, test your ability to remain detached!

Now, if you too think that the novel is all murder, gore, intrigue, chases, fights, and clashes, you’ve got me all wrong. This novel is an ethereal mix of thrills and chills, romance, suspense, and… well, betrayal. No wonder then that we find Koyal, the main protagonist telling herself:

Trust is soon going to become an extinct word, she felt bitterly.

Let us talk of a few really nice features of this novel. No, I’m not going to tell you what the story is, who falls in love with whom or who gets murdered, or how all this intrigue tends to effortlessly envelop our protagonist… nor will go on and reveal the absolutely astounding climax! But wait, let me pause here to tell Manjiri that it was only around page 200 that I was able to conclude the way she did… but I’m sure not many would reach anywhere near.

Details are well conceptualised and executed

Here we have Koyal telling us of her impression of Neel who she meets after a fairly long gap. The description is complete and the reader actually is able to visualise the character as someone who exists and, therefore, is able to immediately connect with the flow of the story.

How different he looked, she thought. Earlier, he was the life of a party, impulsive and full of fun. But right now, she could find nothing of the old Neel in him. He seemed taller than ever in a white silk shirt and navy blue trousers. His grave expression, stubble-lined face, and prominent cleft chin added a touch of maturity. His deep brown eyes looked far across the hall and through it into infinity. Lively and mischievous once, pensive and hooded now.

And if straightforward detailing doesn’t impress you, there is Koyal going back in time and recollecting her impression of Neel’s mother and just a few lines sum up the relationship that a lesser writer may have had to struggle with.

Then Neel’s mother had offered her chakli, which she dared not refuse. Koyal remembered how nervous she had been and how uncomfortable she had felt in the lady’s presence. It was fifteen minutes later, when Neel had left them alone for a few minutes that Koyal realised why. Mrs Pundit did not waste a second. With the smile still intact on her face, she explained to Koyal how she had selected a beautiful, ‘homely’ girl for her son. She rose and…

… Neel had entered the room just then and Mrs Pundit had quietly slipped the photo back into the cupboard.

Well, even this is intrigue, though of an entirely different flavour.

The intrigue in the novel follows everyone and every thing

Where is the point in writing suspense if everything and everyone in the story isn’t covered tip to toe in it? The mesh, of course, needs to be fine enough to let the characters breathe and the story glow. I couldn’t isolate anything on the pages that wasn’t actually a vital part of the overall picture. Yes, even Chris Carver is a part of the intrigue and you’re expertly made to stumble upon it towards the end.

‘To make secret plans to do something illicit or detrimental to someone’ is what intrigue is… and we find this definition literally squatting over incidents, relationships, characters, and even the numerous sub-plots in the novel. Trust me, don’t trust any character telling any other character anything… and the possibility is that you’ll then be able to solve the mystery of the cavansite conspiracy faster than anybody. Such is the level of intrigue here on the pages of this novel!

It is fascinating to find intrigue woven around another novel called ‘The Cavansite Conspiracy’ by some Chris Carver, with vital clues spread in a few cards with Warli drawings on them… and this is besides the conventional thriller route of hidden agendas of people no one ever suspects.

The observations and analysis are worth a glance

Don’t be frightened. The analysis and the observations are not the sort you come across in an essay by Fredrick Engels… they are woven within the story and many times happen as short and crisp dialogues or helplessly hopeless bouts of introspection. Of course, this makes reading them rather quaintly likeable. These doses of light-headed philosophy are akin to having cakes and scones with a large mug of tea in the evening knowing that it energises you and still leaves you reasonably hungry for dinner later.

Thus we have the writer’s perception of popular fiction that I began this review with. We find Koyal castigating herself in her characteristically philosophical stance:

Did she need any further proof of her idiocy? The perfect man, the rarest and the most precious kind, had been willing to share his life with her, and she had chosen to look in the other direction, incapable of fathoming the depth of his character and the intensity of his love. How could she ever blame him for his restricted and guarded interest in her?
She was the culprit and the maker of her own destiny.

In another situation we find Koyal telling Neel:

‘The similarity is uncanny,’ Koyal agreed. ‘But hasn’t fiction borrowed from reality and reality from fiction in the past? I think it would be a pretty ordinary occurrence in the crime world. Except that this isn’t the world of crime, but my own life…’


Let me reveal here that the first murder or killing takes place only after around seventy pages have gone by. There were times I had begun to feel that I would actually end with beautifully written romance and maybe some little inconsequential intrigue or conspiracy popping up somewhere along the way. But then things started happening… and the next page turned even before I could say: ‘Enough for today. Will continue tomorrow!’ No, that was not to be.

The novel does take you from Pune to Hamburg and then over to London and back to India… all the time mixing intrigue with small doses of philosophy and romance that hops from being dainty and mushy to being mature and pragmatic! And the dish that Manjiri ultimately serves is actually delicious and literally full of exotic ingredients from foreign lands! Yes, she makes us enter the heart of Germany when the plot takes us all there… just like we get to taste a lot of Punery flavours so long as the characters are here. Besides the honesty in her descriptions, I really loved the brutal thrusts introduced when the plot needed them.

So if you’ve missed your first chance to read this book, you’ll love the message Neel found under the miniature boat inside that bottle:

Second chances are very rare
Take them if you really care!

Remember, this novel is indeed ‘a chuckle of amusement’…


Details of the book:
Title: The Cavansite Conspiracy
Author: Manjiri Prabhu
Publisher: Rupa
ISBN: 978-81-291-1912-4
Pages: 261
Price: (in 2012) Rs 195/-



Arvind Passey
26 July 2012