Terrorists must be a happy lot… such a large percent of Indians writing in English seem to be fictionalising what they may be doing or what they may not be doing. With so many thrillers where terror becomes an inherent part of the story, some of these terrorists must surely be looking for fresh plots that they may now adopt. I mean, we know how Hollywood flicks have inspired real-time action. This is a dangerous thought surely but then most of the plots that I have come across have been either too obvious or seem to have some link with some incident that has already happened. So they cannot possibly inspire a fresh bout of terror.
Obviously then, the plot of ‘Checkmate’ written by Hrishkesh Joshi involves the hijacking of a passenger aircraft. There is the usual crowd of terror organisations, Pakistan, jihad and so none of them spring a surprise. We have in the novel a ‘Mohammad Zia ul Afridi. Former member of Harkat ul Jihad e Islam and Al Qaeda, once upon a time the right hand of Osama Bin laden and current Commander in Chief of Lashkar e Taiba.’ There is also the usual RAW and IB… but was refreshing was the inclusion of the PMO, politics, and a certain blu-turbaned prime minister! I was smiling when I read about this blue-turbaned PM and his weary ways that we are all so familiar with… and the author writes that ‘the Oxford veteran had grown weary of politics now a days. He was tired of the opposition demand for resignation, tired of the protests, tired of complaints from his own allies, tired of corruption allegations, actually he was tired of running the country.’
Let me add here that the short note on the author tells us that he ‘is a twenty-one year old, reluctant engineering student’… well, for a better part of the tale I kept on murmuring that he is a reluctant writer as well. No, the tale does not drag anywhere but it is devoid of any thrill, any twists, or a spirited prancing around with the newest guns that the world offers. Whatever twists the author could concoct are literally stuffed towards the end… almost like a Bollywood movie where the director realises that he doesn’t have any more time left to digress or run in circles.
I am a firm believer that every book has some or the other element that is worth the money and time spent… and sure enough even this one has in the form of a pithy definition of jihad. The author, admirably, lets us know that ‘true jihad was fought by the Afghans defending their watan, their homeland, from Russian invaders. A fidayeen is a great man, who selflessly sacrifices himself for his people, not a mass murderer.’ This, I feel, is vital because words like jihad are now completely distorted because of the terrorism that we face. Only the other day I was watching the Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit define jihad in an interview to Headlines Today’s Karan Thapar and uncannily it was almost similar to the way it is expressed in the book.
The real gory stuff is sometimes not in a graphic description of an act but in the way a concept is laid out. The book mentions the torture techniques adopted by the terrorists and that a ‘closer inspection revealed single deep incision on the throats similar to dhabihah or halal style of Islamic slaughtering used to butcher animals in which the carotid artery and jugular vein are slashed but the spinal cord is left untouched, thus leaving the capacity to feel the pain intact.’ These are the sort of inclusions that made me keep reading the not so racy text and the not so happening thriller.
The author doesn’t baulk from writing that it is jihadis who ‘trained and shaped the young Islamic minds in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He taught ten year olds to operate rifles and rocket launchers. They were taught to hate America and the western civilization on principle. He had told them about the land of Great Satan where men had sex with men. Where women scantily covered their bodies and kissed men on the streets. Where people drank alcohol along with women on a daily basis, defying Islam. They ate pork. They had huge casinos where gambling was legal. They had strip clubs where men watched women dance naked.’ Now, this concept is cleverly debunked by the author when he goes on to describe what happens inside the hijacked plane as well as what the Taliban is up to wherever it is. What the terrorists do isn’t what they keep preaching and so ‘never mind what Islam says about the dignity of woman; strip her because she is a kaffir, an infidel. Forget what the Quran e Sharif says about slaying of innocents; kill them if they get in your way… there was no reasoning with these men, there was no fighting them.’ Paragraphs like this one are enough to make me sit up and applaud.
The book doesn’t have a typical hero who goes around making the country safe for us or someone who is forever being thrust into the midst of terror gangs and shooting his way out. The RAW chief and his second in command are more like people who liaison well with the team and depend entirely on the sort of feedback and reports that they are fed. Without all this, they cannot possibly differentiate the truth from lies… and the chief does admit that he has ‘been blind. The clues were all staring at me, right in the face…’ It is this characteristic that paves way for the twist that actually gives some credence to the book.
Another facet that I want to mention before I end the review is that Leadstart must realise that thrillers aren’t supposed to look like some supplement reader for schools… and that money spent on hiring better graphic artists for designing the cover will only make readers respect their publications. The truth is that while many readers love to read great books, they also love to flaunt them as they walk into their college or office or some restaurant or coffee house… and this book does nothing to enhance their image as a book lover. Books that sell are never like RAW agents who ‘sacrificed their lives on the battlefield well hidden from the public eye, hidden, for its own good.’ Got it?
Author: Hrishikesh Joshi
Publisher: Frog Books, Leadstart Publishing
Price: Rs 150/- (in 2015)
08 May 2015