Finders keepers

It's an acquired taste. Ashwin Sanghi's books, that is. From The Rozabal Line to Chanakya's Chant to The Sialkot Saga, and now, Keepers of the Kalachakra. You don't know what you are getting into till you pick up the book. Diverse topics, intricate plots, captivating characters and shifting timelines being the hallmarks of most of his books, he's always charmed his readers with his storytelling techniques.

His present tome, Keepers of the Kalachakra, a fine blend of history, mythology and science, revolves around kalachakra, an ancient concept in Vajrayana Buddhism, which essentially means 'wheels of time. The story sets off to a roaring start with a few heads of state with no serious medical ailments dying in mysterious ways. However, a group of four is keeping track of these deaths, and reading a pattern to it. It is the IG4 comprising a CIA operative, a RAW agent, a deputy from the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, and a representative from China's Ministry of State Security. Even as the group is analysing the various aspects behind the deaths of these "seemingly random selection of heads of state," Ashwin Sanghi introduces us to Vijay Sundaram.

A geek scientist, Vijay's thesis on quantum physics is hailed as path-breaking in academic circles, attracting a lucrative job offer from Milesian Labs, a research facility located deep inside the forests of Uttarakhand. However, there's a hitch - he has to be physically cut off with the outside world for the first three months of the assignment. Vijay is unsure. He decides against taking up the job. However, at this stage, he's not aware that IG4 is tracking him with the sole intent of 'planting' him in Milesian Labs. And that Milesian Labs is run by the world's most secretive society called Minerva, who see the greatest threat to the world "from the radicalised followers of Mohammed!", and want "To rid the world of the havoc wreaked by Islamist and its terror factories."

Well, if you are a follower of Ashwin Sanghi's books, you know this is just an introduction, a preamble, that sets the tone for the rest of the story to unfold. The reader is then led to an ashram in Dehradun where we meet the mystic sage Brahmananda, who's omnipresent throughout the book, and believed to be "a few hundred years old", and "known by various names in linear time." He comes through as the principal narrator of the story, a string that holds the various subplots together.

And then there is the radical Wahhabi Mafraqi, whose sole aim in life is anybody's guess. So proceeds the story, even as Vijay continues his research in Milesian Labs, and reports to IG4 clandestinely about the happenings in his workplace. At this stage, Ashwin Sanghi infuses an element of adventure into the story by making Vijay embark on covert operations to find out the real working of Milesian Labs. In effect, unwittingly, Vijay is drawn deep into an unseen war that involves the entire world - from America and Russia to Syria, India and China - and the whole of humanity. So is the reader, into Ashwin Sanghi's narration of historical events, mythological concepts, conspiracy theories and scientific treatises.

The plot being many-layered, covers a wide spectrum of events, and timelines, from American presidential elections to the Kargil War, from the war between Saudis and Ottomans to the birth and evolution of Buddhism, from Rama's crossing over to Lanka to the invasion of Tibet by China, and so on.

The book definitely begins with a bang, and continues to keep the readers' interest throughout, raising huge expectations of a thrilling climax. Sadly, it ends as a dud, a huge disappointment, à la a Diwali cracker that fails to burst. Especially if you have liked his earlier books. Come on, it's Ashwin Sanghi, the man known famously as India's Dan Brown. But, Keepers of the Kalachakra fails to live up to this particular reputation of his. Also, the story proceeds on predictable lines, almost in a filmi fashion, where the good guys always win, and the bad guys meet a gory end. A fair amount of romance too is included in the form of Sujatha, Vijay's girlfriend, and ample action sequences are also thrown in, both of which almost seem forced.

Needless to say, it is a 'heavy' book, with reams and reams devoted to explaining scientific theories, international politics, history and mythology. Intense research that must have gone into the writing of this book flashes at every point, making Keepers of… very engaging. However, there are times when the speed of the narrative slackens with information overload. To add to the confusion are pictorial references to every theory explained, making Keepers of… almost seem like a textbook.

This is 'the' book for you if you nurture a passion for physics  and its dramatic possibilities, but definitely not for you if you are looking for a breezy read.

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