24 February 2010

Salim Must Die by Mukul Deva

Long live Mukul!
As I read, the thought that established itself most prominently in my mind was, “What superb propaganda!”
It reminded me of books I read as a teenager – books by writers like Leon Uris and James Michener, books so gripping that one could just not put them down; books that defined the world for one (until, years later, one often learned better).

Mukul Deva was commissioned in December 1981 into the Sikh Light Infantry of the Indian Army and retired after 15 years of service, including a decade of active combat duty in India and overseas, to become India’s first military action thriller writer. This book is the sequel to his first, Lashkar, and is the story of a global terror attack originating in a certain neighbouring country, and how Force 22, an Indian “strike action group”, combats it.
The story is full of action, a thrilling plot and very convincing detail. I wasn’t looking for believable characters, because in a book of this nature the characters are bound to be sketchily-defined (though appealing) stereotypes – but I must say that the events in it are certainly believable (or should I say “uncannily prescient” as a cover blurb says – though before I said it, I would need to first find out how the word “prescient” is pronounced).
It weaves in broad outlines of world politics, boldly defining vested interests without fear or any kind of pretension. I liked that – but did find it disturbing that the word “karma” and the concept it represents were used so frequently.
I don’t object to karma per se – and will admit that my own choices and approach to life are based on the assumption of karma as a natural law. However, it is an esoteric notion and to use the word as one may use “vitamin” or “gravity” is, I think, unfair.

I could complain that a lot of the language in this book is clichéd, but won’t, and will conjecture instead that perhaps the choice of words and phrases used in this book are used and respected by many highly-competent professionals in their daily life.
However, I will list some bits that amused me:
- “Manoj, can you check if the chink called either of these numbers?”

- They came. They saw. They freaked. and, later on the same page, cordon sanitaire
- “As soon as we cut out the heart and chop off the head, the arms will automatically atrophy.”

Many of the uniforms are made with something called Kevlar (a ring of Kevlar-clad bodies always stood between him and harm’s way) and it’s assumed everyone knows what that is (says Wiki: Kevlar is the registered trademark for a para-aramid synthetic fiber, related to other aramids such as Nomex and Technora. Developed at DuPont in 1965, this high strength material was first commercially used in the early 1970s as a replacement for steel in racing tires. Typically it is spun into ropes or fabric sheets that can be used as such or as an ingredient in composite material components.)
Salim Must Die is not just great fun but also a brave warrior of a book that addresses many controversial subjects, including the true heart of Islam, with calm impunity.

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