Publisher: Hachette India
Price: INR 399
It is hard not to like a book like Raghu Srinivasan’s debut novel ‘The Avatari’. For once, the thriller genre of Indian literature finally has something to show for – something that can be hailed as world-class when it comes to writing, having been disappointed before by the works of Ashwin Sanghi, Amish Tripathi & the like. A book that doesn’t read like a rough first draft fast-tracked into publication and full of the usual suspects – hackneyed clichés and bad dialogue.
Mostly set in 1986, the story opens with the murder of a Buddhist lama in a monastery. We are then transported to Yorkshire, England where an Oriental messenger immolates himself while on his way to deliver a letter to retired British Army officer Henry Ashton. Urged on by his friend and companion Durga Bahadur, a retired Gurkha sergeant, Ashton decides to honour a promise he made years ago and respond to the pleas of a Laotian monastery to prevent the hidden treasure of the mythical kingdom of Shambala from falling into the wrong hands. This hidden treasure is believed to contain the knowledge of the Kaalchakras – the ancient wisdom that humanity would require to resurrect itself from inevitable apocalyptic times.
Assisted by Susan Hamilton, a mathematician from Oxford and Peter Radigan, a young American mercenary on the CIA’s most-wanted list, they set out on a trail left by the great Mongol emperor Kublai Khan, traversing through the inhospitable terrains of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Ladakh at the height of the Afghan War. But they are not alone – monitoring their movements are a powerful adversary with unlimited resources, who would stop at nothing to get their hands on this secret.
Despite getting a mention at the start of this review, it seems inevitable that the focus returns to the most glowing positive of this book – the writing itself. While Aroon Raman (of ‘The Shadow Thrones’ and ‘The Treasure of Kafur’ fame) and Neeraj Pandey (author of ‘Ghalib Danger’) have done a fairly good job in this respect, Srinivasan raises the bar a notch above. ‘The Avatari’ boasts a huge cast of characters and Srinivasan tries to do justice to all of them and succeeds to a reasonable extent.
One point to be noted here is that none of the protagonists or the antagonists are Indian, which is quite uncommon and the fact that the colloquialisms do not seem out of place at any point is praiseworthy. The setting of the tale in the mid-1980s (albeit with the use of occasional flashbacks) also makes the whole thing much more believable.
The only aspect where the plot falters a bit is its thrill quotient. The story moves at an even pace throughout and something is always happening, but the moments of action – very good when they happen, like most of the book – are too few and far between for a novel that is around 500 pages long. While no part in the narrative seems as if the writer could’ve done without, the amount of thrills on offer would’ve worked better for a more compact book.
Nevertheless, Raghu Srinivasan’s ‘The Avatari’ counts among one of the better debut novels by an Indian writer in recent years and so readers of the genre should definitely not give it a miss. Recommended.
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