Well researched and cleverly plotted, The Avatari is an enjoyable read.
Rs. 399 PP 512
As one finishes the last page of The Avtari by Raghu Srinivasan, there is a feeling of regret that more Indian authors don’t attempt to write adventure stories. After all, it is a genre we have grown up with, is great fun to read, is intellectually undemanding and from the writer’s point of view, can sell a decent number of copies.
The Avtari, to put it in a nutshell, is a meticulously researched, scrupulously plotted adventure story that grasps the reader’s imagination and takes him on a journey across time and continents.
The story that starts without much ado in the mid-Eighties is about the quest for the mythical Shambhala, a Buddhist El-Dorado that holds secrets that can guide dead souls towards immortality. Leading the hunt are a retired British army man, a Gorkha, a mathematician and a mercenary. Their adversaries include an American millionaire, shadowy intelligence agencies and the Chinese — each one with reasons of their own. And oh, yes. The American President puts in a cameo. And so does Genghis Khan.
The fundamental necessity when writing an adventure story for grown-ups is to make the tale believable. And Srinivasan does it like a veteran. He is brave enough to eschew unnecessary dramatics and adopts a style that is matter-of-fact and concentrates on taking the story ahead at a pace that is just about right. Had he been faster, the plot would have been inarticulate; had he been slower, the story would have degenerated into a whimsical fantasy.
Adding to Srinivasan’s plausible narrative are his vivid descriptions of the landscapes and environments. The mountains of Afghanistan, the layouts of monasteries and ancient palaces come alive and his experience as an officer in the Indian army is evident in the detailed explanations of combat techniques, weaponry and personnel.
While The Avtari can be called a traditional adventure story, what really makes it work are the conventional elements Srinivasan has left out: there is no one hero or heroine, nor is there one bad guy. As a result, the reader gets to look at the situations and characters from multiple points of view and is spared the moral righteousness of Those-Who-Are-The-Nice-Guys.
The principle protagonists, each with their own motivations, are well drawn out and the multitude of supporting characters who make up the various strands in the tale have their own little back-stories and histories that fit in comfortably in the DNA of the book.
If there is anything to cavil about in the story it is the absence of unexpected twists and turns. But while these may have introduced an element of sensationalism into the tale, they would have done so at the cost of credulity — the reason this book works in the first place.
For a first-time author Srinivasan displays command, discipline and focus (attributes of an army officer as well?) and has written a book that is a darned good adventure yarn.
(RM Simha is a creative consultant with Quasar and Kinetic India.)