THE TAJ CONSPIRACY
Author: Manpreet Sodhi Someshwar
The author is an engineering, IIM-Calcutta Alumnus with several years work experience in Marketing, Advertising and Consulting. She has been previously honoured for her writing by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, South China Morning Post as well as several Indian Publications
• Mehrunissa Khosa – Intelligent, Sharp, Erudite and Brave, she is a woman in search of her roots, hailing from an Indian father and Persian Mother. Her expertise in the Persian Language combined with expertise in the Taj Mahal is invaluable, as its leads to the unraveling of a very complicated plot
• CBI Officer JCP R. P. Singh: Brilliant Officer – no other description can do justice. How I wish all police officers were like him….
• SSP Raghav: Reasonably intelligent, but with some of the trappings of traditional police officers. Complete honesty is his saving grace, as also his awesome commitment
• Professor Kaul: Bhishma Pitaamah! That is self explanatory…
• Raj Bhushan: The Enigma… ASI Director who does not believe anything presented to him; dismissive, arrogant, opinionated
• Arun Toor: His Corpse started the whole affair
• Pamposh Pandit: Mehrunissa’s childhood friend and niece of Professor Kaul. Quite unlike her uncle, though
• Jara: the doer, if you get my point!
• Mangat Ram: Right and Left Hand, as well as manservant of the professor…
The first few pages of the plot are reminiscent of the iconic “Da Vince Code”; but don’t fret – the novel is anything but an indianised Da Vinci! It takes off on its own track within a few pages- and the take off is not on a tangent but on an independent track of its own. A man is found dead on the floor of the Sanctum of the Taj Mahal, with enough hints on the tomb as well as on the body to suggest a hindu origin of the famous monument. The investigation into this murder and its remifications form the rest of the story as Mehrunissa, singlehandedly at first, tries to solve the murder of her friend and helper. Why was the calligraphy on the monument altered? Mehrunissa is the only one who knows about the alteration, being fluent in Persian. Why did the body disappear? With the police being uncooperative and unnnimaginative, the girl finds herself all alone, with only the professor to turn to for advice… At this juncture enters JCP R. P. Singh – a police officer with imagination, a high degree of intelligence and drive. The investigation acquires pace from here onwards as the 2 join forces to unravel one of the most diabolical challenges to security that Agra – and by extension India has ever faced…
In one phrase: A cracker of a book! Unputdownable from page 1 till page 399. The story is original, reasonably fast paced, believable and convoluted. Despite being convoluted, it is also deceptively simple to follow. At no point do you feel that there is anything outlandish or unreal in the basic plot. It flows in an even pace, does not take any unwarranted de-tours. There are no sub-plots or dalliances of any kind anywhere in the story. One scene effortlessly blends into the next, the changeovers are relatively smooth ; it all blends into one nice fast paced novel – one that you would want to read again and again.
All the characters have been well-developed; adequate space has been devoted to each characters’ development. This is important: there is almost no unnecessary detail regarding each character. This of course adds to the pace of the story; It also helps us equate better to each character, understand the motives and actions stated. Some characters have been intentionally left under-developed; saying more would reveal too much – so let me leave it at that. The writing style is lucid and fluent and – most importantly – decent. Too many of the recent Indian authors use expletives . Happily, this is one nice and clean book – and that makes it a double pleasure to read!
Yes, there are negatives – significant ones. But these have nothing to do with the story which is a near-flawless taut narrative; the said negatives have to do with some portrayals and phrases that I find inexplicable. I find it strange that a half Indian girl – and hindu at that – should mention (or think) “hindus have 3 million gods and goddesses”!! There are a couple of such instances that do not gel with the overall character. No Hindu –even an NRI Hindu will think that way. Then, who calls ones uncle by surname? Does my niece call me Kale Mama or Kale Kaka? No! They call me Vishal Mama / Kaka. By first name. The use of the surname in one instance- while it does not interfere in any way with the story – is confounding. I find it strange that an author born and brought up in India should state such things (“Kaul mama or 3 Million Gods!!!!!!). To be honest I have yet to find a single hindu or Indian to state either. If the author is reading this post, I would like to understand, for I am quite frankly astonished. No one in India calls a relative by surname, for example. Luckily for the author, these misses- while they are glaring- are very few and far between (not more than 3-4), and do not take anything away from the story. Had they occurred more frequently – it would have rendered the character seriously flawed and unbelievable. As things stand now, we can dismiss these as aberrations in an otherwise perfect novel!
There are other, more serious inconsistencies. One is that you have an SSP – Senior Superintendent of Police – on a motorcycle, and with 2 constables in his force! I do not know much about the police, but that is just plain ludicrous! Flat out, I don’t believe it! I have seen even a thanedar in a police car, yaar. And an Anti Terror Squad with a strength of 3???? With revolvers? And in a place like Agra? Come on! Get real! Next, at times you do feel that some background development is needless, that the novel could have been made even more taut – but luckily it all comes together in the end. On closing the book, the only thought is that you have just read an excellent thriller and whodunit, one you would love to return to again!