As a teenager, this reviewer had a friend whose bedroom wall featured a poster of a small puppy struggling with a chunk of meat. ‘Don’t bite more than you can chew,’ the poster proclaimed. Those words came repeatedly to mind as I read Anand Ranganathan’s For Love and Honour. The novel has all the trappings of a 1980s masala flick – a love triangle, insurgency, a brooding army man ridden with guilt, family secrets, a loyal servant ready to go to any lengths to protect the master’s bloodline, and the beautiful backdrop of a tea estate. All of which is perfect, since the story is set in the 1980s, beginning in the year the Indian cricket team led by Kapil Dev won the World Cup. Unfortunately, much like an insipid remake of a yesteryear Amitabh Bachchan hit, the book fails to involve the reader.
One of the protagonists Captain Akhil Mehra leaves the Indian army after losing his right hand during a fierce combat with a group of MNF (Mizo National Front) members fighting for a free Mizoram. Though he owes his life to Major Rahul Schimer, a senior who protected him in combat, during his last days at the base, Mehra finds the Major oddly changed in his behaviour towards him. The year is 1983 and Mizoram is still a part of Assam.
The ex-serviceman then joins the Carlington tea estate in Haflong, where he finds himself being sucked into a tug-of-love-and-lust between the estate owner’s two daughters – Ipsita and Indrani. As Schimer fights his own demons, born of a childhood spent with some of the very people against whom his uniform places him, Captain Mehra must convince the sisters of his love for one and indifference to the other.
Spanning a period of three years and ending in the days following the Mizo Accord of 1986 that granted statehood to Mizoram, For Love and Honour ambitiously tries to balance the personal and the political. The author sets his love story against the backdrop of insurgency and the state’s handling of the problem, as well as the suffering of common people caught between the two forces. At its core, though, For Love and Honour is a tale of conflicting passions. And this is where the author fails to deliver.
The characters show promise – each carries the burden of a loss, a scar either physical or psychological. But Ranganathan touches upon their emotions without exploring them enough to bring them alive.
Where he does make a mark, however, is in his presentation of a soldier’s internal battles. A part of the very society that their jobs often divide them from, a soldier’s loyalty to his profession is, at times, at the cost of personal ties. As Major Schimer recalls “during his year in the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School… some of his comrades from Mizoram would seethe whenever Aizawl air-bombing came up for discussion. They were as much Indian as he was, but it was he along with millions of others who had failed to comprehend the pain and suffering of their Northeastern brothers…”
In language, plot and execution, For Love and Honour offers more than many other contemporary works of quick-read Indian English fiction. However, it falls short of the expectations raised by the book blurb. Some tight editing might have helped towards achieving the promised “racy” narration.
For Love And Honour
Rs 350, PP353