The storyteller was at it again. If someone has been able to spin magic into our stories from long ago, then it’s Amish always. Suheldev – The King Who Saved India is the latest from his repertoire and set in the time much closer to our times. It’s the story of a brave warrior prince who comes into his own under compelling circumstances. From the brattish younger prince, he transforms into a leader who inspires people and unites them with their common love for the country of their birth, India.
I have always loved his way of storytelling, the ease with which he moves between characters and places. The descriptions are so vivid and concise that one doesn’t just read the story but instead gets to live it. So was it this time too. If the rakish charm of Suheldev was endearing, then the rapacity of Maqsud was repulsive. Watching Suheldev’s passage from a naive young man to a fearless and consummate General was an engaging journey. There weren’t as many primary characters like in his earlier books/series, but there were enough to complete the picture.
But I’ve to admit. This book did not live up to the high expectations. There were a few unmissable flaws which I found unacceptable. Firstly, the characters have been well sketched out but didn’t develop as well as some of the earlier primary characters. Like General Parvateshwar from the Shiva trilogy or Raavan from the Ramachandra series. There was something wanting. They appeared like the washed out, stereotypical characters from a Bollywood period film. Their dialogues were staid and unimaginative. I mean, look at General Govardhan – he looked like a lost, overgrown boy who was unbelievably naïve and a meek follower. Characters like Ashwaghosh and Toshini appeared as afterthoughts and their characters not fully etched out. And that I feel was unfair. They had a lot of potential to become much more evolved characters than what was depicted. Toshini could have been a Lady Sati or Lady Sita, with her fiery attitude but ended up providing a few lines of misplaced distraction. The need for Ashwaghosh’s existence in the story was nowhere explained. Unless it was done to provide a secular atmosphere with all religious representations in place – I don’t know. Kerim was a caricature and so was Prime Minister Vrishabh.
Secondly, the storyline itself. Yes, it is the need of the hour to provide as many inspirational stories as possible of a form of patriotism which is devoid of religious overtones, and I fully support that. But the story could have been etched out better. It appears there was a deadline to meet and whatever was ready was quickly put together. Neither was enough time given for the story to take its form nor were the characters allowed to grow into imposing personalities. Suheldev’s transformation was depicted in bits and pieces here and there. More effort was taken to develop Maqsud’s character and it was by far the best character, in terms of the way it has grown. The storyline suffers a hangover from the earlier tales. Almost as if cast from the same die. The flow cliched and the outcome predictable. It’s a little trite and insipid, as if the soul was missing.
Another thing I was not comfortable with is the sermonising, or preaching, about patriotism and the in-your-face Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. For a writer of his calibre, I would have expected something more subtle and subdued yet powerful. The constant haranguing about the need to see beyond the religious identity of the person, the agonizing monologues defending Abdul every time someone new joined the band – I felt it did more disservice than intended. These sentiments should have been woven into the lines with more ingenuity and vision. There were pages which felt more like a socio-religious discourse than part of a novel.
But what really ticked me off was the homosexuality angle. We have learnt to accept it as a way of the modern contemporary society. But does it have to have a mention in every bit of literature? Has it become a prerequisite to increase readership or show inclusivity? Either ways I found it totally unwelcome and unnecessary. While pages were written exalting the love of Maqsud and Kerim, the fledgling romance between Suheldev and Toshini was left cold and unattended, and incomplete – with no explanation given even though the story did end years after the war.
Anyways, I have always loved his writing and am still going strong with it. As a book, a good one time read.