Reverse globalisation

Reverse globalisation

Despite having one of the largest English-speaking populations in the world, readers of books in India have been brought up on the notion that it is the west (the UK or the USA) which decides whether a novel is a success or not.

Even when the book was published in India, the blurb took care to mention a sentence or two from the review in a British or an American periodical. The attitude was the same, irrespective of whether the book had literary pretensions or was just a thriller meant to be read on a train journey or over the weekend.

Thrillers set in India, and penned by foreign authors, were perceived to be in a different class from those scribbled by writers born and brought up in this country. Part of the fascination of HRF Keating’s Inspector Ghote series was that it gave the Anglophile Indian yet another opportunity “to see ourselves as others see us,” as Robert Burns put it. And phrases like “fast-paced” and “unputdownable” began to find their way to the blurbs of thrillers published in India, even as a brief profile of the author, along with his solemn-looking picture, was carried on the inside cover.

Which is why Devil’s Ether comes as a bit of a shock. Not only is there no profile of the author R R Cherla but, surprise of surprises, the book is a thriller set in the US of A. So, what is an almost anonymous Bangalorean doing, writing about shenanigans in the American intelligence establishment and where the only Indian mentioned in passing is Ashok Madiwala, head of product development for the world’s leading social network site Ybrance, and that too on page 269 when the action is nearing its climax, as the protagonist Sara Sheppard takes on the high and mighty in a bid to undo the mental damage caused to her civil rights activist husband, who is the victim of an attempt by a clandestine faction of the US government to use remote neural-monitoring techniques to pry into the minds of citizens? Phew!

However, once you get over any inherent prejudice against reading a Bangalore-based author’s thriller, which is set in America, the writer’s background hardly comes in the way as the plot assumes a life of its own and carries you with it to its fascinating denouement. Cherla has done a commendable job of researching eclectic subjects like mind reading, mind control, synthetic telepathy and electronic brain-leaks, while following up on a lawsuit filed in a US court on “How the NSA harasses thousands of law abiding Americans daily by the usage of remote neural monitoring.” Cherla has created a scary scenario where the sheer size and reach of social networks is leveraged by the US intelligence community to establish a massive surveillance grid.

In the latest Michael-Crichton novel Micro, which was completed after his death by Robert Preston, the author narrates how rogue elements in what President Eisenhower once termed as the military-industrial complex carry technological research to an extreme, which vitiates the civil rights enshrined in the US Constitution. The thought-control which George Orwell touched upon in his dystopian 1984 (published in 1949) has been taken in the Devil’s Ether to a sci-fi extreme where the all-intrusive ORION (Office of Reconnaissance, Intelligence and Operations Network) monitors the very thinking of the citizens it claims to be protecting from terrorists.

Unlike the characters created by the hugely popular Crichton, and one is not just referring to the dinosaurs, Cherla’s civil rights activist Jim Sheppard quotes from Naom Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival to critique USA’s post-9/11 policy of anticipatory self-defence, where invented or imagined threats are neutralised through preventive wars so as to achieve the goal of global dominance. Arundhati Roy would have approved.

And so, what if, in the US presidential-election year of 2012, American writers of pulp-fiction protest that a thriller like Devil’s Ether is taking outsourcing too far and complain that they are being Bangalored! Talk about globalisation in reverse!

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