Dan Brown probably had no idea of the consequences that his books, Angels and Demons among them, would have apart from an author’s expectation that they would sell well, and earn him a fair amount of money. They did that in spades; but they did more than that. They spawned a cult, a new genre of novels that were, if anything, as successful as Brown’s own books in the regions where they were marketed.
One of the outstanding authors of books in this genre is Ashwin Sanghi’s The Rozabal Line (remember the ‘Rose Line’ in The Da Vinci Code and the key role of ‘Ancient Rosslyn’ in that book?), followed by Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna Key and the one immediately before the novel being reviewed, The Sialkot Saga, published in 2016, have been runaway bestsellers.
There is no reason to believe that this book, Keepers of the Kalachakra, will be any different. From the very first page right up to the end, Sanghi keeps one breathless by the sheer enormity of the canvas against which the events in the book play out.
Spiritual beliefs, philosophy, myth and legend from the western religions and traditions, to those of the East, especially India, and to the regions of Asia covered by Buddhist philosophy and beliefs are only some of the elements the author uses. In equal measure there is quantum physics, pure mathematics, astronomy and astrophysics, economics, politics and—inevitably—the conflict between what is perceived as evil and what as good, except that Sanghi very cleverly avoids the standard moral assumptions and moves one step back from them to a rational resolution of the apocalyptic events that move the book along, even if it is grounded in some abiding tenets of Hindu spiritual thought.
But one basic fact needs to be set out without any ambiguity; Sanghi crafts his plot intricately, cleverly, and in a manner that is, by any standards, admirable and skilled. He is a master of storytelling, and is always on top of his stories, never letting them run away with him. The novel begins with a series of seemingly unrelated events, each dramatic, some horrifyingly so, and together they succeed in keeping the reader in thrall, so to speak. What do these events mean? Are they connected? If so, how? These are some of the questions that are created by the author to take the story forward. There are two young characters—Vijay and Sujatha—who are meant to be the centre of the action, but they end up being elements in the enormous drama that Sanghi creates with the book. If anything, the centre is really the enigmatic Brahmananda, of which not much need be said here as anything that one says may well be a spoiler.
The chief direction the book takes is the apocalyptic end of the world that appears inevitable by the terrible powers unleashed by the forces working with Islamic fundamentalists and equally terrible powers, cosmic, scientific, supernatural and drawn on some very clever tweaking of scientific and mathematical facts by the author used to destroy the fundamentalists. The great Armageddon-like conflict threatens to destroy the world and perhaps worlds beyond this one.
To all this, Sanghi adds mystery in carefully administered doses. A group of intelligence chiefs meet; one or maybe more than one of them is actually not only what they are but something else, which we are led on to suspect but do not discover till the author thinks it necessary for us to know, as a part of the extremely complicated plot that he has created.
Reading the book, this is one element that became more and more evident—the fact that the plot, brilliantly complicated though it is, is a bit too complicated and it is here that the book may lose some readers, just as they would be lost in the intricacies that might just overwhelm them. To take just one brief example:
Sharma was confused. Seeing the puzzled look on his face Mikhalov explained, ‘Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism—they are all terms that can be used somewhat interchangeably, because they emerged from the union of Buddhism and Hindu tantra. Now tell me, which Hindu deity is at the centre of tantra?’
‘Shiva,’ replied Sharma.
‘And what is another name for Shiva?’ asked Mikhailov.
‘Shambho,’ answered Sharma.
‘Do you now see why it is called Shambhala?’ asked Mikhailov softly, ‘Shambhala is the place where the energies of Shiva and Shakti combine – like the triangles of the Sri Yantra. The mandala is merely a representation of that.’
He then goes on to give Sharma the coordinates (latitude and longitude) of eight Shiva temples, which Sharma soon realizes are all along the same longitude plus or minus half a degree.
‘Very good,’ said Mikhailov, ‘as he saw realisation suffuse Sharma’s face, ‘Now, string theory is a framework in which the point-like specks of particle physics can also be modelled as one-dimensional objects called strings. Imagine a guitar string that is tuned by tightening it. Musical notes are produced at various points along the guitar neck. Think of particles as those notes. In fact, particles are mere manifestations of a string…
You want to know what Shambhala represents? It is the energy produced along this string of eight temples. They lie on the same longitude as your mandala. Each time the mandala vibrates so do the temples in resonance. Imagine the power!’
‘Incredible,’ murmured Sharma.
‘You haven’t heard the incredible part as yet,’ said Mikhailov.
Nor has the reader, and so he reads on, breathlessly. Who is Sharma? Who is Mikhailov? Does it matter? Yes, but that need not detain us here. I cite this as an example of how, with a skilful mixture of fact and fantasy, Sanghi can draw readers through his book much like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Those addicted to Dan Brown’s books, and to Ashwin Sanghi’s, will find much to keep them entertained, and fascinated, in Keepers of the Kalachakra. As fantasy, as a thriller that uses scientific facts, mathematical conclusions, philosophy and religious beliefs to embellish the plots, this book will delight many.
Sanghi is not very bothered by characters, whether they are credible or not, what makes them do what they do. And why should he be? His interest is in the plot, much as an expert chef’s is in the dish he prepares. Sanghi’s interest in characters is the same as the chef’s in a potato or cabbage, very rightly. Sanghi concentrates on the plot, as the chef on his dish.
Bhaskar Ghose is a former civil servant and columnist. He has written four books—Doordarshan Days, The Service of the State, both non-fiction, and two novels The Teller of Tales and Parricide. He lives in Delhi.