A spy thriller “Let Bhutto Eat Grass Part Three”
Let Bhutto eat grass, part three. Shaunak Agarkhedkar. Editions du Faucon Blanc. Rs 450. Pages 358.
That it took up to four decades after the Pokhran explosion to fictionally sift through India’s nuclear history is indicative of the simplest issues that this type of fiction typically addresses: the ambivalence around of a nuclear warhead is such that it does not strike as a pressing enough subject to be dealt with in a thriller – the stakes are not immediately tangible; quite the contrary, in fact – the consequences are long, their impact too distant in time to be considered fodder for fiction.
It is easier to build fictitious facades around simpler, more black-and-white issues such as terrorism. Weapons of mass destruction – the right of every sovereign nation, you might say – leave too much room for controversy.
At Shaunak Agarkhedkar’s Let Bhutto eat grass deserves to be read as a fictional account of how a country chooses to implement its foreign and defense policy vis-à-vis a historically hostile neighbor. Inasmuch as these nations are not blind to the damage a nuclear warhead can cause, but their aim is to explore the more pragmatic side of the argument – to prevent, by covert means, another nation from building a nuclear bomb. .
In 1974, in the Thar Desert, Buddha smiled as India became a nuclear power. Five years later, a man is intercepted in the same desert, having escaped alive from the fallout of an Indian excursion to Kahuta.
An “int” – different government led to budget cuts for the research and analytics wing in the third installment of the Let Bhutto eat grass series, and the Mandarins inside – the young war-wounded Sablok, the aging veteran Arora, and the platoon leader Mishra – have to make do with whatever scraps they can get their hands on.
One of these scraps comes from the country of the colonizers of India, where the memoirs of Zulfi Bhutto – the one in the title, written before his execution by General Zia-ul-Haq – land on the lap of an agent of the squadron. , who immediately communicates it to his sweating superiors in Delhi.
The first idea that Part III could be different from its predecessors is when, shortly after, it inserts the reader in London, Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan finds mention. It’s the most notable cultural nod in a series curiously devoid of those, focused as they are on the politics of the time. This book is peppered with them, almost as if Agarkhedkar was making up for missed opportunities.
It is an improvement over Part II, which, while quite compelling, has been bogged down by Sablok’s trips to Trombay and the masses of technical know-how/what. Agarkhedkar doesn’t venture so close to the bomb this time around – the focus is now on the facility that could produce one, and how far the Pakistanis have come to build one.
History buffs will be directed to the tests in Balochistan in 1998 as evidence of Pakistan’s nuclear capability, and it is to Agarkhedkar’s credit that he crafts a story in which the development of such technology is likely two decades earlier.
What really gives the book legs is what made its predecessors such unusual specimens in the world of Indian spy fiction – Sablok is not the hero. Nor does Arora. Neither Mishra. Yeshwant Mhatre is an agent, but not the agent, and James Bond, he is light years away from being. And Nissa, the London-based operator, is as much a femme fatale as golden eyes Xenia Onatopp is an analyst.
As if Pakistan’s determination to eat grass weren’t enough, the Wing’s own government is a pain in the ass, digging its face into its personnel files and making mountains of molehills it finds quite interesting. One can’t help but link it to events in the neighboring nation, where a legally elected prime minister has not only been impeached, but literally eliminated, and wonders if that’s what Raisina Hill fears above all else. .
Agarkhedkar keeps it strictly professional – something that wasn’t as boring in the first two books, which were a bit shorter than Part III. Here, the characters’ lack of personal life is noticeable, and although Nissa has a drinking session with her neighbors early on, there is nothing else outside of work depicted.
In some ways that’s admirable (how many true spy novels explore the personal side of the personal?), but when you’ve spent as much time with the characters as Part III makes you, it gets a bit monotonous to stay huddled in the workspaces.
The fact that his use of language retains his tried and true traits gives huge credit to Agarkhedkar. It is a formidable exercise in the art of restraint: the functionality of language is paramount, and its deployment is part of a Spartan space that Agarkhedkar has made his own. He doesn’t feel subscribed. There is an ebb and flow. There’s the kind of humor you’ll only get from government officials – goofy, often morbid, but economical.
Nothing in the book will make a reader gasp or laugh, but sometimes that’s for the best – calm, methodical writing can be just as compelling as quiet, methodical spying.
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