More than a million copies sold announces the blurb on Ashwin Sanghi’s latest offering, The Sialkot Saga. That’s more than adequate to intimidate a reviewer to make him sit up and take the book with trepidation. With that behind me, I dive deep into the 584-page spread. Watch out! Dan Brown, you’ll soon have the look of the proverbial poor country cousin.
We begin on the railway platform in Amritsar as the infamous Last Train from Pakistan has just rolled in. It is crammed with bodies after the cataclysmic events following the partition in 1947. Rescued from the human debris are two little boys (wearing identical bangles), stuffed into the bogey at the last minute by their mother—who had seen many things she wished she had not—in a desperate bid to save them. She gets left behind to fend for herself, but hoping that the twain shall live to see another dawn.
Then you’re flung into the roller-coaster of ancient history where Ashoka the Great has a change of heart and becomes Ashoka the Gentle. From here, there’s no looking back. Book One brings back to the events following Independence, from 1950 to 1960. Weaving through the byways of past and present, blending fact and fiction, mixing history and mythology, banal politics with cut-throat business, the reader is constantly hanging on to the edge of an abyss.
The book runs through the whole gamut of relatively recent events where a disguised Rajesh Khanna asks his fan, a Police Commissioner, to delay the CM’s arrival to let his film premiere. And thereby, hangs another tale.
You’re then back to politics with that foolhardy Janata experiment that failed before it began. So obsessed were they with Mrs Gandhi that their puny bickering ensured Morarji Desai was toppled within 28 months, Charan Singh in six and Mrs Gandhi storming back to power. Her assassination followed by the anti-Sikh pogrom with her son becoming the Prime Minister. Then, there are the carpetbaggers and banal arms-dealers desperate to make a sale of all-terrain trucks to the army. As you reach Book Seven (set in 2010), you need a break. Luckily, there’s a refreshing change of locale to exotic Bhutan, but there isn’t enough time to savour the beautiful countryside as its six brief pages turn into a maze of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo.
Sanghi moves the two brothers—Manjit and Daljit of the two bangles saga—to an end too swiftly. In this denouncement, the reader is face to face with an unlikely mocktail, as remote in possibility as Stephen Hawking visiting Patanjali near Roorkee on a weekend to meet Baba Ramdev and discuss quantum physics.
From atop my perch, this is as close as one can get to fiction fed on steroids. An easy read with a touch of history laced with a fast-paced story set in a familial world where ‘money makes everything right’. And if that were the gauge, so be it. For The Sialkot Saga looks like it is all set to make its mark on modern contemporary fiction.