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From the past six months or so I have been a regular reader of the blog ‘DYNASTYCROOKS’. It has terrific insight and analysis of politics and other issues of national interest and many a time a refreshingly different take on affairs. Who wrote it used to be a mystery at the time I started reading it; the writer identified himself simply as ‘Chaiwallah’ and the cover page of his blog carried a photograph of the entire dynasty whose crookedness he aimed to expose. Then one fine day, the writer came out and identified himself as a certain ‘Abhishek Banerjee’, an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at IISc, Bengaluru and put up his own photograph on the blog. That moment onwards, I started respecting him even more, much like myself he was in the world of science and yet had not given up on the world of words and the political affairs of the day (almost inspirational). Even so, I wondered what prompted him to shed the cover of anonymity all of a sudden?

Then one fine day, he announced he was trying his hand at fiction and coming out with his first novel ‘Operation Johar: A Love Story’. It dawned upon me, what the real reason behind coming out and identifying himself was. Having devoured his non-fiction writings with eagerness, I got my hands on the book as soon as I could, but the tardy pace with which I read novels ensured it took me quite a while to get done with it and review it.

The novel itself is compact, around 200 pages long and the covers, front and back, attractive enough to make someone want to pick up the book and check it out. There are two parallel tracks in the story, set in Jharkhand of the early 2000s. The first is the developing love story between Somu, an IIT aspirant from Ranchi and Sangeeta, a doctor in the neighbourhood, who is seven years elder to him. The parallel track is in the jungles of Central India, where Jatin (Sangeeta’s boyfriend), who idolises Che Guevara has his tryst with the Naxals. While many a story has a love triangle, Mr. Banerjee, ever the mathematician, has come up with a complicated quadrangle (at the least) in his maiden novel. There is also an amusing reference to then ticket collector Mahendra Singh Dhoni. On the first glance, the story reminds one of ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’, the film by Vivek Agnihotri, whose endorsement the book carries on the front cover.

The writing style is lucid and quite easy to understand, no farrago of fancy words or unnecessary sonnets from Shakespeare. The choice of two essentially nerdy people as the protagonists for a sapiosexual love-story makes one wonder if the inspiration was from the author’s own life or that of the students he mentors at IISc? There is an AIIMS connect to the story as well, which makes it all the more special to me. The story has its set of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged till the end.

The story succeeds in bringing out the hollowness of the manipulative left-liberal cabal, which exploits the poor tribal populace under the garb of helping them. It also portrays how the majority of the Indian tribal population is firmly rooted in the Indic ethos and does not really believe in ‘God is the opium of the masses.’ It also exposes the vicious malice of ‘Urban Naxals’, who lead a comfortable life in the cities themselves having infiltrated educational institutions and various other positions of influence and use it to brainwash impressionable youth and the gullible downtrodden sections. Another good aspect of the story is that most of the characters have been shown to be in variable shades of grey, including the genius Ms. Goody Two Shoes Dr. Sangeeta (as revealed towards the end).

Not to say that the story is without its chinks in the armour. The biggest disappointment happens to be in the very title ‘A Love Story’, the romantic angle seems to be out of sync with the plot and the setting in which the story is set in. A 17-year-old courting someone seven years elder to him in the Ranchi of 2000s, seems too good to be true. The entire love story plot seems highly, highly unrealistic and either it could have been done away with entirely or at the least made more believable. Even the supposed adventure spree the duo sets off on, is out of groove with reality. One could argue that in fiction, the story need not always be realistic; but the other half of the plot is so very entrenched in reality, that the story falls between the two stools of real-life inspired fiction and total fantasy. What hurts all the more is that, in his non-fiction writings Mr. Banerjee is a staunch realist. It is indeed possible that being a fan of his non-fiction works, I ended up expecting too much. Equally possible is the case that he was feeling like a fish out of water in the world of fiction and tried too hard at his first attempt.

In a nutshell, this is a 6/10 novel, which warrants a one time reading.

Dev Desai

Budding Medico @AIIMS. Avid newspaper reader (follow politics keenly; NaMo fan), foodie and an enthusiastic dabbler in the magical 'World of Words!'

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