Un-historic: Ancient lore is the biggest misfit in Ashwin Sanghi’s latest book

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Published: April 10, 2016 6:08:20 AM

A Bollywood-type roller-coaster of a story, a crash course in modern India’s history and some elixir in good measure make Ashwin Sanghi’s latest book, The Sialkot Saga, quite a potboiler.

A Bollywood-type roller-coaster of a story, a crash course in modern India’s history and some elixir in good measure make Ashwin Sanghi’s latest book, The Sialkot Saga, quite a potboiler. The author has incorporated every tried and tested formula—from the rise of the underdog, clash of titans, the underworld, lost and found, ancient lore, god men and women—in the book. And while some of it works, some tracts are poorly stitched up.

Much like Bollywood, there is no formula guaranteed to be a hit in popular fiction too. And quite like the movies these days, we get a little dose of everything in fiction as well. While some like it, some don’t.

Coming back to The Sialkot Saga, thanks to the robust mix of formulas, there’s never a dull moment in the book. In fact, the story takes on such a pace that the overwhelmed reader is compelled to put the book down and take a deep breath on many an occasion.

The book traces the lives of budding entrepreneur Arvind Bagadia and small-time thug Aseem Sheikh, who soon rise to Harshad Mehta and Dawood Ibrahim kind of heights. Had the book been a film, one can almost visualise the gratifying applause from the front-benchers as both protagonists vanquish their enemies in a series of smooth manoeuvres. The clever ploys always succeed and everything goes as per plan, except when they are pitted against each other. As we said, there’s never a dull moment.

The story begins with the Partition, and uses major events and political personalities as crutches to take the narrative forward. Expectedly, most of these events are predicted by sharp-shooters Sheikh and Bagadia, who take their motives forward with their acute acumen.

Now for the ancient history angle that Sanghi seems stuck with. What jars is that this part of the book is completely out of sync with the plot. The world of mafia, financial wranglings and personal vendetta is very far removed from the ancient lore interspersed throughout the book. And when the twain meet, it is not by some masterstroke, but in a rather desperate attempt to juxtapose one upon the other. However, what makes the last part of the book really difficult to digest is the discovery of the elixir of life and ‘god’ itself. This is where Sanghi takes the narrative to unimaginable heights, quite literally.

The anti-climax is delivered twice. One in the abrupt fate of both protagonists, and then in the rather outrageous ‘discoveries’ of god and immortality. In the end, the reader is left with twin thoughts as well: what exactly was the author attempting; and if we could get men like the protagonists in real life to smoothen our lives of all impediments.

The Sialkot Saga, Ashwin Sanghi, Westland
Pp 584
Rs 350

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