Making sense of chaos

Making sense of chaos

Skyfire
Aroon Raman
Pan Macmillan
2016, pp 242,Rs 299

India’s Robert Ludlum (or Dan Brown, if you will!) presents his new book, Skyfire. The main characters of The Shadow Throne join hands again to save the nation, and the world. Since I have not read Aroon Raman’s previous books, I dived into this one with a sense of expectancy for the unknown. And an enjoyable satisfying dive it was!

Freak floods in the Karakoram ranges close to the Indo-Pak border. Acid rains in many towns. People, especially children, go missing without a trace in Delhi. Is there any link among these events? None whatsoever on the face of it. But the trio from The Shadow Throne — journalist Chandrasekhar, history professor Meenakshi Pirzada, and intelligence officer Hassan — are smarter than you or I. Along with some new characters who play a pivotal role in this book, they join hands to get to the bottom of the sinister plot.

The story grips you from the first chapter on (a marker of a readable book), where the author deftly mixes fact and fiction to set the pace. The flooding and tsunami-like gushing waters resulting from the unusual and unexpected storm remind one of the floods in Leh in 2010 where a year’s worth of rain fell in one night, leading to mudflows and carnage that the authorities and residents were totally unprepared to cope with. This makes the tale even more credible. And frightening.

Two years down the line, in Delhi, a street child from a school run by Chandra and Meenakshi goes missing. Their search for this bright and curious kid reveals that other destitute kids too have vanished without a trace. The duo snoop around on their own in order to find the missing kids, but eventually they have to enlist the help of their friend Hassan to find an answer to the disturbing incidents.

Much as he would like to help, Hassan is on an official mission to solve the mystery of fluke weather patterns across the country that are causing havoc, disease, deaths, and is therefore barred by his bosses to work on the missing kids’ case. Expert meteorologists suggest that the odd weather patterns (acid rain in Indore, burning winds in Salem) are abnormal and are probably caused by weather manipulation by humans. Intelligence departments are involved to get to the bottom of these events and find the baddies. However, Hassan, in his personal capacity, does lend a hand to his friends in solving the missing- children mystery but ends up goes missing himself!

This strengthens the resolve of our intrepid lead characters, Chandra and Meenakshi, who seek help from government as well as non-government but powerful agencies to find their friend and the missing kids. The influential Harshvardhan Dharma of the NGO Dharma Foundation (that steps in whenever the government is not able to cope with natural disasters) is their only hope. He agrees to help and, based on clues, the trio, accompanied by the beauteous Vaishali (who uncannily resembles Chandra’s dead wife) and the passionate meteorologist Dr Das go to Bhutan. What is the connection between the two disparate and parallel mysteries? Is there any, or is there not? Well, for that, the book needs to be read.

Raman is a master storyteller who grips the reader from page one. The narrative is pacy with the heart going lub-dup, lub-dup on occasions. The research is commendable with two biggest agendas of the United Nations, global terror and climate change, coalescing in this yarn competently. However, as it inches towards the end, the planning for the Bhutan adventure seems shoddy; for a mission of such enormity, where lives could be put in danger, the planning seems lacklustre. Or is that how things work in real life? The language is taut, except for a few heavy, labouring sentences that make one want to get on with the story by speed-reading them. But, that’s nitpicking!

Most of the tale is backed up by scientific research that is explained simply, so as to be understood easily by even non-scientific readers who need not go running to Uncle Google. HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program), which has been termed the ‘Moby Dick of conspiracy theories’, plays an important part, and shows the kind of research Raman has done in the creation of this perfect nail-biter, or peanut-muncher. Not only are floods, droughts, famines and acid rain blamed on HAARP in real life, but mind-control of people, downing of flights and even the Gulf War syndrome are thought to be triggered by the programme. Oh boy! As if we didn’t have enough military, chemical, biological and nuclear warfare to frighten us already, now we have meteorological warfare as well.

Aside: the identity of the bad people is not hard to guess. But never mind, go read it.

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