Sunday, September 23, 2012

Decoding Krishna

Happy as I am to write another review for Ashwin Sanghi's latest, I'm disappointed in equal measure at not being able to sort out my feelings for The Krishna Key.
But I'll be coming to that later. Here's a brief overview of the plot :-

Ravi Mohan Saini, a renowned professor of ancient Indian history, is given an ancient seal depicting a bull, unicorn and goat by his school friend and noted linguist Anil Varshney, for safe-keeping. Turns out four such nearly-identical seals were recovered from archaeological excavation sites at Kalibangan, Kurukshetra, the fabled underwater city of Dwarka and Mathura and together they constitute the key to a unlocking an enormous secret concerning the historical Krishna. In order to ensure the safety of the 4 seals he leaves one seal with each of his four friends - Dr Nikhil Bhojaraj, Professor Rajaram Kurkude, Devendra Chhedi and our protagonist Ravi Mohan Saini. Along with the seal, Varshney leaves Saini with a cryptic message and instructions to get the four seals together along with a base plate locked away in a safe deposit box, in case anything happens to him.
Mayhem ensues when Anil Varshney is gruesomely murdered by an unknown assailant and Ravi Saini is apprehended as the killer. He is forced to flee from police custody, along with his beautiful doctoral student Priya Ratnani (aided by Priya's father Sanjay Ratnani) and thus begins a race against time to recover the 3 seals,  prevent the impending violent deaths of the 3 remaining seal-bearers and solving the riddle of the historical Krishna. 

The above is a highly condensed form of the plot (which includes an alternate narration by Krishna, recounting the chain of events of his life upto his death) which goes through an intricate maze of twists and turns before reaching its climax.
One has got to be living under a rock for the past decade, to miss all the glaring similarities this book has with Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Academician in his 40s as the central character - check
An ancient secret relating to history and mythology - check
Macabre deaths of scientists/other academics - check
Beautiful female sidekick - check
Religious symbolism - check
Solving secret codes, puzzles - check
Anagrams - check
Delusional, (not very) psychopathic killer - check
Unlikely villain revealed towards the end - check

Now this is not a big deal. Since so many writers across the world have tried to emulate Dan Brown's record-breaking success by creating a suitable concoction of history, modern science and numerous conspiracy theories. I have read a slew of such books especially by James Rollins and Sam Bourne and found them to be passably entertaining (nothing close to the Dan Brown awesomeness though). But The Krishna Key, misses the point somewhere. It failed to to give me those goosebumps-inducing moments that I have come to associate with books of this genre or make me care about the characters or the mystery.
Don't get me wrong. I am a sworn Ashwin Sanghi fan and I loved his Chanakya's Chant to death, which was a fabulously well-written political thriller. But The Krishna Key is unable to stitch together a coherent narrative. It focuses too much on the history and the mythological explanations, while ignoring important aspects of a novel like a solid narrative, the characterization and sometimes even logic.

Towards the beginning of the novel, when Priya Ratnani tags along with Professor Ravi Mohan Saini, both of them being assisted by her father, I was unable to comprehend as to why a father would encourage his daughter to be on the run with a suspect in a murder case. Later on, of course, this is explained. But my common sense tells me Ravi Saini should have found this odd at the time. Then there's the case of the events at the Somnath Temple and Mount Kailash. That part of the book was completely wasted on depicting wild goose chases, which had very little to do with furthering the plot and mind you, I know the importance of wild goose chases in novels of this sort.
Another major weakness is the character sketching. One remains so unaffected by any of them that it is difficult to even remember their names. It's because none of them make an impression on the reader of any sorts. The reasons given as to why the psychopath became a psychopath, are too feeble to be accepted without any argument.
And most annoying of all, a bizarre love story was thrown in to the mix of history, mythology, murder-mystery and conspiracies towards the end. It felt very jarring to the overall tone of the novel and was completely unnecessary in my opinion.

Coming to the strong points of the book, the theories of Krishna being an actual historical figure are fascinating. So are the theories of an actual existence of a lost city of Dwarka and the Brahmastra being a metaphor for a device triggering a nuclear blast. Particularly the tons of historical information with emphasis on the Vedas make for an intriguing read. Who would have known the significance of number 108 and how this single number could be the explanation of The Big Bang? Or how The Pentagon, USA's top defence establishment, could owe its shape and name to our Vedic age scientists. These serve as the ultimate fodder for the conspiracy theorist in each one of us. My favorite conspiracy theory from the lot has to be that Vedic era symbols are a part of most modern religions.

Now if I'm to consider my own review, then the number of shortcomings definitely outnumber the good things about this book. I did not hate it but I did not find myself caring about it a great deal either.
The only reason I kept reading till the end was because the oodles of historical data and myths made it engrossing enough for me. I couldn't care less about whether Ravi Saini was killed by the psychopath or whether he got to solve the mystery. For the real protagonist of The Krishna Key, is not Krishna or any of the characters, but the painstakingly done historical research.
Overall, I give it a 2.5 stars out of 5. A good read but not a memorable one.

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