Fiction reflects the concerns of the society it springs from. In today’s day and age, with the threat of nuclear war and unequal warfare looming in the background of India’s relationship with our neighbours, Veena Nagpal’s Radius 200 talks of the effects of nuclear warfare in an Indian context. This is a topic that hasn’t been explored in Indian popular fiction before, so it is a refreshing (if horrifying) take.
An atomic bomb has been dropped on Allahabad, leading to the creation of a nuclear wasteland around the city—an “Exclusion Zone”—where outsiders are not allowed to go in. Kyra, a journalist, wants desperately to get into that zone to look for her lost love, Om, a soldier.
In the meantime, Om, against all odds, is actually alive in the Exclusion Zone. He is part of a colony of starving mutants that could be right out of Mad Max. The mutant colony has its own politics, with two brothers as rivals for the post of chief, and a continuous scrabble for survival.
In the meantime, water scarcity has tightened its hold on the Indian subcontinent. A team of scientists has been searching for the mythical river Saraswati as a possible solution. Arjun, who also loves Kyra, is a part of this mission. He plans to go into the Exclusion Zone where there may be clues to the river. Veena Nagpal deftly weaves together elements of post-apocalyptic fiction, military thrillers, with a generous helping of Bollywood masala (including the requisite sex scenes) to create a fast-paced story that keeps you hooked.
The story shuttles between present day, where Kyra is trying to get into the Zone, and the past, when the reasons for the deployment of the nuclear bomb slowly become clear. Both threads are gripping. Nagpal has put in the research into military life, as well as the effects of nuclear radiation and the deteriorating drinking water problem worldwide.
The one area where the book falls short is in the prose styling. It is unpolished and, at places, downright amateurish, and could have benefitted immensely from a good editor. This is by no means a rare problem, but to have it happen to a book this promising makes it feel worse. This one reason is why this book cannot survive in the international market.
But for the modern-day Indian English reader tired with all the campus romance and simplistic love stories on offer, Radius 200 makes for a refreshing change. Worth reading for the story.