Free Press Journal

Bombay Swastika by Braham Singh: Review


Rumour had it they had gone found some poor dead bastard at Fertilisers and Ernst Steiger realised he too was out of luck. Times like this, he would rub the mole on his face. The fertiliser factory compound was emptying before his eyes and he thought, surely a skeleton shift stays back to man a continuous process plant? It doesn’t appear that way, even though not everyone was headed for the gates. A crowd had gathered around the sulphur burner. A strong burst of ammonia caught Ernst in the eye and there was this pervasive smell of shit. “The sound of children’s laughter filled the air. A posse of havaldars in dark blue shorts moved towards the sulphur burner in absolutely no rush…”

Above is a passage from the book under review, Bombay Swastika. In reviewing parlance, there is a term known as ‘plot-hopping’ or ‘leapfrog narration’. This book by Braham Singh is a quintessential example of leapfrogging, but there is an underlying coherence which is not perceptible when you read it cursorily. Plots and sub-plots against the backdrops of Nazi Berlin and the Bombay of 1964 are tightly interwoven. A gripping account of conspiracy, subterfuge, deceit and scheming patterns, Bombay Swastika reads well. Those who love thrillers and rush of adrenaline would surely lap it up.

Books are generally divided into two broad categories: Feminine and Masculine. Bombay Swastika unmistakably belongs to the latter category.

The skill of the author is to dovetail a slew of plots into an interesting and intelligible narrative. There are no loose ends in the book. A seasoned reader of thrillers will not be foxed by a slight overdose of plots. But those who read thrillers once in a blue moon, may at times get a tad bemused by the flux of events and episodes in the book.

The protagonist Ernst Steiger’s role is well-crafted. Resuscitating Homi Bhabha and India’s nascent nuclear scenario may appeal to readers in a quaint manner. From the point of view of stylistics, author seems to be in driver’s seat.

A passage from the book will amply prove this: ‘The dead-driver-half-in, half out of the caboose – was a Marathi local. In this topsy-turvy world, Marathas were driving heaving vehicles, not Sikhs. The dead man had the same handlebar moustache as the one in that truck at Sindhi Camp. The one who did a hit-and-run on a kid goat while aiming for Salim Ali. “Sprawled like that, the driver looked almost bitter at how things had turned out. The cleaner was missing. Must have run like hell, leaving one shoe behind…” (page, 333)
Axiomatic statements like ‘without road accidents, India’s population will double’ (R K Karanjia, Editor, Blitz) and ‘in India, gods may cross-dress’ add spice and substance to the contents. The author appears to be an adept raconteur who juggles the plots adroitly. His command of language is laudable.

The book has a slightly rushed tone, but its characters are well-defined. All in all, an engaging book for those who love bullet and beauty going hand in hand. Though it’s Braham Singh’s maiden writing endeavour, he has fairly succeeded in it. Hope, more such books will ensue from his formidable quill, making the readers sit on the edge of the chair.

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