Guest Writer - Gautam Jatia
Title: The Meadow.
Authors: Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark.
Publisher: Penguin Books India.
Price: Rs 499.
The Meadow is one of the most extraordinary books written on terrorism in Kashmir. In the summer of 1995, six foreign tourists were kidnapped while trekking in the mountains of Kashmir. The kidnappers were from an Islamic terrorist group and they asked for the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, the firebrand Mujahideen leader from Pakistan, then incarcerated in an Indian jail. This kidnapping incident electrified the world and put the global spotlight on Kashmir.
Within four days, one of the prisoners makes a daring escape. The Mujahideen retaliate by kidnapping one more foreigner. After a month of failed negotiations, when the terrorists realise that their demands are not being met, one of the prisoners is found beheaded. The families of the missing struggle to keep their hopes alive, international government agencies frantically try to persuade the Indian government to resolve the crisis, the army, the police and intelligence services, all try to pursue the trail but the remaining four hostages are never found again.
The Meadow is a fascinating account of this extraordinary story told from the perspective of all the key players — the families of the kidnapped tourists, the jihadis, the Kashmir police, the army officers involved, the foreign intelligence services, the local press, villagers who interacted with the terrorists and the prisoners and the rescued hostage himself. Drawing on classified police reports, materials and the recordings of the Indian government negotiations, the disclosures in the book are startling, telling a tale that horrifies but at the same time fascinates.
This book is, to my mind, one of the best works of investigative journalism — crisply written in an interesting manner and at the same time rich in facts and material. I recommend The Meadow to all mature readers and those interested in understanding fundamentalism and the turmoil in Kashmir.
Gautam Jatia is the CEO of Starmark and an avid reader
Title: The Taj Conspiracy.
Author: Manpreet Sodhi Someshwar.
Price: Rs 250.
The Taj Conspiracy is a fast-paced thriller that merges architecture, art and history with terror, religion and fear. The novel questions the very origin of the Taj Mahal, bringing to mind The Da Vinci Code. But is this India’s answer to Dan Brown’s controversial best-seller?
As the title suggests, the Taj Mahal serves as the fulcrum of the story. Mehrunissa, the green-eyed half-Persian, half-Sikh art historian researching on the Taj, is refreshing as a female protagonist of a thriller novel. She finds her supervisor and the Jat caretaker of the Taj dead near Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph with cryptic messages on the floor in blood (Robert Langdon anyone?!). What follows is a 400-page tale of twists and turns, some of them quite bizarre, spanning Agra, Delhi, Jaipur, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the bowels of the Taj Mahal.
For most of the book, the reader is given a vague idea that some great harm might befall the Taj — that’s the “Taj Conspiracy”. To the author’s credit, the conspiracy seems plausible, particularly in a country like ours. More than a ‘whodunit’, The Taj Conspiracy is a ‘whowilldoit’.
Coming to the characters, there are very many of them. From a rogue politician to a mad scientist, they are all there, lusting after the Taj. And the murderer seems to fill the shoes of the albino in The Da Vinci Code. There is R.P. Singh, a Mayo-schooled, Maoist-hunting tough cop who becomes Mehrunissa’s partner in getting to the bottom of the conspiracy. He restores one’s faith in the Indian police!
It is a well-researched novel, one that combines history and fiction smartly. Someshwar shows us the vulnerability of the Taj, not just from terrorists but from pollution too, whether air or water. The book is sinister at times but far from being scandalous. And therein lies the difference between The Taj Conspiracy and The Da Vinci Code. Though it doesn’t measure up to its “inspiration”, The Taj Conspiracy does pack in enough punch to make for a good monsoon read, preferably with a steaming cuppa by your side.
Title: Red Jihad — Battle for South Asia.
Author: Sami Ahmad Khan.
Publisher: Rupa & Co.
Price: Rs 295.
It’s the year 2014. Pakistan has transitioned into a full-fledged democracy and is reconciling with India. As can be expected, there are forces working against this fragile peace. A Pakistani jihadi leader, Yaseer Basheer, travels to the Red Corridor and enlists the support of an Indian Naxalite commander, Agyaat. Their plan is to unleash Pralay, India’s experimental intercontinental ballistic missile, on the subcontinent. The missile changes course en route and hits Pakistan, causing massive collateral damage. In response, Pakistan declares war on India.
But in today’s world no war is confined to the immediate players and soon the hostilities threaten to envelop all of South Asia. Have India and Pakistan sparked off the mother of all wars?