[Indian Fiction/Thriller – INR 295/-]
I thought hunting was banned in the country…
Oh, you probably also thought that an Indian Fiction book has to have ‘Love’ in the title. Not only does ‘Prey by the Ganges’ not obey, but debut author Hemant Kumar ensures the cover [see picture] is as away from any semblance of love as possible. When the final page is flipped though, I can’t help but wonder about the brainstorming behind composing the cover.
So, who is preyed upon?
The book opens on a cold night in a forest by the Ganges. While you might expect an obvious thriller to start off on a sober note and jerk you off your seat with the sudden gush of adrenaline, Hemant doesn’t agree. What Vaidya Shambhu and his assistant Hariya encounter in the deceptive silence of the night is the cold-blooded killing of Shambhu’s friend Ravi. His eyeballs pop out of his sockets; there is blood congealed on his skull. You get it. Utter and hard-hitting gore.
Sounds creepy. What follows?
Well, Shambhu vows to avenge Ravi’s murder. Irrespective of how he has to travel to Janak Ganj and deal with the terrifying Thakur Gajanan for the same. But it doesn’t stop there. Feudal Bihar is all gaga about the two thakurs – Gajanan and Suraj Singh – and between them, there is no love lost. Add to the proceedings the quest for a priceless diamond and what you have is razzmatazz. People battling each other with agendas tucked under their arm – some in-your-face, others in the closet.
Gajanan and Suraj Singh? Didn’t they feature in Karan Arjun?
Hush, that was Durjan! Anyway, these people are hardly single-layered village goons. The former, for instance, has a magnetic personality and finds it elementary to lure luscious young women into his house. One of these is the rather interesting Etwari, an ‘innocent’ little girl who is confused about her (forced?) sexual escapades with Gajanan. The point is, the characters work. They do primarily because they have been carved out well. When it comes to Shambhu though, he maintains a linear graph all through. You know, the perfect unchanging white. There, I cough.
Aha. So, what does this ride with Shambhu take me through?
A lot. Say, how murky is the political scenario in a village? What is the tensile strength of innocence – just how much can you stretch it? Sexuality, corruption, centralization of power. Psychopaths. What lust does to you. All that jazz wrapped up in one energy-filled ride. What’s more, when the ride comes to an end, you get closure. The kind that comes from honesty in expression: minimal diversion, no faffing and meticulous use of words.
Are there roadblocks along that ride?
To Hemant’s credit, the roadblocks aren’t too obstructive. A couple of inconsistencies in the text, a character or so under developed (perhaps to get the cut on pages? Or maintain the tautness of a thriller script), a sequence of pages with gore and more gore…At a level, it may get on your nerves especially if you are like a friend of mine who puked in Biology Practicals. But otherwise, it’s all good to go. Also, the manner in which Hemant describes the most brutal of sights (or the most intimate, for that matter) is, err, technical? It is written from a convenient vantage point that makes the proceedings clear and transparent. Only, I am not sure if this safeguards against awkward readers flipping the pages. For that matter, it also doesn’t safeguard against the “that-is-a-gangster-film” and “I-want-my-books-to-be-sweet” crowd. But then, thrillers do have a disjoint, loyal following.
I am going fishing this Sunday. Put this in the picnic basket?
If you intend to lose track of the empty packet of chips floating on the lake, put this in. If you do not want to have a lingering aftertaste of any sort, stack this up for later. Either way, if a thriller is your thing and you do not need flashy gadgets and guns to spice up the frame, good old villages in Bihar with interesting people fighting it out could be just your thing.
* Ruchira Mittal – the editor of ‘Prey by the Ganges’ – sent across a review copy. Thank you Ruchira for considering P&P. Also, here’s sending my very best wishes for the book and all your future endeavours. Cheers!