Misguided missile

Misguided missile

Children of War is Anirudh Annam’s first novel. A young Indian living and working in Hyderabad, Annam (according to the introductory note at the beginning of the book) grew up reading bestselling authors like Mario Puzo, Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum.

Ludlum has inspired him the most, according to the note. So, I picked up this book with a lot of  expectation.

The theme itself is very current — the threat of terrorism in India, the attacks on the Taj in Mumbai and the Parliament in New Delhi being the main inspiration. The concept of training an elite top-secret Indian commando force from childhood is interesting.

These young schoolboy recruits with very high IQ, who are (conveniently) orphans, are trained to become physically and academically top class.

It was also interesting that Annam has used real characters in the story, like Field Marshal Maneckshaw and President Shankar Dayal Sharma.

But the style of writing is disappointingly sophomoric. In addition to the amateurish writing style, grammar has been overlooked in several places. At first, I thought Annam was adopting a new style of writing, since commas were non-existent.

But the inconsistencies began piling up early in the book. There were passages where commas were used, and others where they were left out.

Once I absorbed this bit of information, tiny doubts began creeping in about the ability of the author, misgivings that are fatal for a writer trying to entice the reader into the plot. Spelling errors added to the growing list of distractions.

It became clear within the first 80 pages of the book that the editorial team of the book’s publishing house were the actual villains of the plot, rather than the terrorists portrayed in the book.

The book is peppered with spelling and grammatical errors, rather like the high-calibre bullets and grenades that the super heroes of the story use so liberally. These errors are simply inexcusable.

Now for the story itself — it is just a linear narration, with no real story, except for a trio of highly trained anti-terrorist commandos (to whom no harm can come) setting off on various expeditions around the world and airdropping into countries at will.

The writer keeps going back and forth in time, which only serves to further confuse the reader. There are no emotional conflicts, elements that are essential to any plot — in fact, a basic requirement for a story.

There is plenty of gratuitous violence in the story, with the two heroes of the book torturing prisoners, smashing bones and breaking necks with sickening regularity, when they are not exploding heads with high-calibre bullets.

What is meant to be a grand twist in the tale turns out to be yet another twist in the tortured reader’s wounds.

Many of the dialogues, twists and turns resemble a Hindi or South Indian B-grade film. (“We love our country. If we can do something like this for our nation then we are more than willing to do it.

It is as Nathan Hale said, ‘our only regret is that we have but only one life to give for our country,’” he said. “The auditorium broke into its loudest applause that day.”) I leave you to translate it into any Indian language of your preference.

Amidst this syrupy melodrama, I was personally disappointed that the ostensible reasons for the terrorists to have chosen this vengeful path in life is ascribed to some predictable black and white incidents in their past. Perhaps a greyer reason would find more room for debate in the reader’s mind?

Clearly, the editors at the publishing house have done Annam a grave disservice by allowing this draft copy to reach the printing press. If they had spent more time, and had a little patience, improved the plot points, tightened the copy, and cleaned up the language, it could have been a different result altogether.

How on earth did the publishers allow such spelling errors in such a hi-tech world of computer spell-checks? And that some words sneaked past because the spelling was right but the context wrong, clearly shows that the copy editor didn’t do such a dedicated job.

The story ends on a note that clearly signals a sequel. Annam would do well to spend an enormous amount of time on his next novel ironing out these avoidable distractions.

It is not an easy task to write a book — and it is a pity to see a young writer, who has, after all, put in a lot of time and effort to give birth to it fail to hit the bull’s eye because of improper editorial guidance. Without doubt, Annam and the publishers have missed an opportunity to score.