I entered the book tail-gating a character who fascinated me by the genetic chill he seemed to carry with him. ‘Ah,’ I said to myself, ‘This book is going to have a lot of blood-shed, guns and explosions.’ I braced myself to drift into a world of spies and espionage only to be left searching for it until half-way into the book. The book began with a prologue that made me adjust my eyes from Angola to Kerela, from army fatigues to corruption in khadi and khaki, from a pulsating heart to a throbbing urge… in short, I was fascinated by the sheer pace.
The gun was safe in the holster. He remembered what his father-in-law always said, ‘No loose talk. Do what you are supposed to do and get out of there. No one is a friend in that camp.’
By the time I finished reading the prologue I was literally walking through intrigue and a lot of arms and ammunition lying around though strangely not firing and went on to the formal start of the novel with my right hand involuntarily holding a pencil as any shooter might hold a revolver! This was when Ravi Subramanian thrust me right into the heart of a bank. From here until nearly half-way into the book I was made to understand some of the dull secrets of banks, banking, and bankers. Well, I don’t mean Ravi tried to offload any of the hard-core finance stuff he may have understood or dealt with during his IIM or banking days… but barring a few steamy moments, the pages tended to lack the pace and face of the prologue!
Like any reader I too would agree with Ravi when he writes that ‘whenever passion overtook reason, he was uncomfortable,’ and the pages with banking and more banking were making me uncomfortable until the main protagonist Karan enters. Within a few pages of his investigative stance I realised that so much of passive banking actually hid a lot of greed, gore, and intrigue! The writer himself admits this:
This tale brings into focus the changing aspirations of urban India, and the saga of greed which prevails in most corporates in India, where morally bankrupt managers are willing to go to any extent to fulfil their materialistic desires. Has the end become more important than the need?
The way the investigation done by Karan peels and reveals layer after layer of financial bungling, one feels a strange mix of frustration and anger.
‘Yes, yes. I got that, Karan. There are sixty-eight such accounts across the country. In the last three months, about two hundred crore rupees have come in from overseas into these accounts and almost everything has been withdrawn in cash… and that too within three to four months of their being opened.’
This novel has a lot of characters going in and out of the pages… some last longer than others but most leave a definite mark of their own. They all have a defined role to play that is in some way connected to the overall plot and intrigue that is a generic part of the novel. So, though it is seemingly easy to get lost into a net of names, one doesn’t, and remembers the way Nikhil, Vikram, Tanuja, Zinaida, Harshita, and Raymond are connected… or the way Arvind, Krishna, and Appachen stay together… or the way Joseph Braganza stays between the lines throughout the novel. We soon learn not squirm uncomfortably when we read about the way Vikram ‘paid an even management company over a crore as fees for an event, which would have cost not more than forty-five lakh.’ Or how Nikhil was ‘coerced into taking on rent a property owned by Vikram, that too at a rent significantly higher than market rentals. Not only that, to make sure that he was able to afford it, Vikram increased his salary by nearly a hundred percent.’
But then we know that connected to these banksters are an international CIA agent, lobbying and other events happening in Kerala… and murders of Greater Boston Global bank employees. There is ‘foreign money coming in to fund NGOs running an anti-nuclear protest in India’, there are blood diamonds flowing along with dirty money… and then there are these cold blooded murders that were made to look like they were suicides.
Why was Raymond killed? Why was Harshita killed? If the bank had been vigilant, they could also have found out that Asia Logistics was a bad account. But could that have stopped the murders?
Is it possible that they were killed because they found out?
Now these are questions that I can easily answer because I have read the book… but I wouldn’t. I admit to having read the book at a fast pace as there wasn’t much to tempt me to go slow, digest, and think about. There were incidents that I could relate to because I see them happening all around me all the time… and there are people talking about them or newspapers full of them. However, I liked the way Ravi makes them sound so cold-blooded and business-like and yet like a joke that these times have inflicted upon us… like the time when Zinaida addresses Nikhil:
‘Only one, sir. In fact it’s more of a compliment. We have a fabulous sales team in the branch.’
‘Thank you. That’s nice to hear.’
‘Yes sir. Who else would be able to sell an insurance scheme to a 50-year-old lady, passing it off as a fixed deposit product?’
…and then just a few paragraphs later when Nikhil sums up this situation to Anand:
My question is simple: Why can’t we be careful in front of outsiders? These MT idiots have no understanding of what we need to do to achieve our revenue targets… We need to be careful so that people don’t talk about such things.
So the novel is indeed full of these incidents that have really happened to real people and so readers would tend to relate to them easily. Though I must admit here that if you want to read this book to get some quotes for a speech, you will be terribly disappointed. The book has incidents that one relates to… language that one understands without unnecessary cerebral stress… and a plot that has a lot going on! I did crib and felt irritable when I was subjected to so much uninspired prose for nearly two hundred odd pages… and I thought I’d mention this in my review. Yes, the novel could have been a lot crisper but, in retrospect, I think I did like all those boring insights into the world of banking – because, as I have mentioned earlier, this kind of reading doesn’t need my brain to work full capacity!
I was able to finish this novel in less than three hours. Need I say more?
Title: The Bankster
Author: Ravi Subramanian
Price: Rs 250/- (in 2012)
17 December 2012