When Ashwin Sanghi’s next was up for pre-order on Flipkart and Amazon, my excitement knew no bounds. I have always enjoyed his work- a good mixture of history and contemporary lives interwined. Chanakya’s Chant made me sit in awe with the brilliant parallelism yarned between the yesteryear’s untouchable genius, Chanakya and someone with the same cunning intelligence in today’s time. With The Sialkot Saga, I expected the same. History connected to today’s times. Did the book click? Let’s find out.
The Sialkot Saga basically revolves around the two central characters, Arvind and Arbaaz and their lives from rags to riches. Where the former is business minded, the latter is a political genius. Their lives cross paths after decades of penpal battles. Who overcomes whom? Who wins the final battle? How are their lives connected to something that happened in 250 BC? That constitutes the width of the book.
When I first saw the book divided into several sections according to time periods, I knew the book was going to be similar to Chanakya’s Chant. But I didn’t want to draw any comparison. The book continuously has a witty edge to it. Majority of the sections end with a clever line. I was purely entertained by these lines that I started looking forward for such lines at the end of every section. The narrative is fast paced with numerous characters emerging at a very short span of time. The lives or Aravind and Arbaaz move forward strongly and steadily, breezing through the years with acquaintances being made and interesting events getting painted on both sides. While Aravind’s life comes across as far more comfortable, Arbaaz’s is a struggle. There are many determined moments like the ones where Arbaaz takes revenge on the people who troubled him. Aravind’s moments has a more strategic victorious edge.
The first two decades, or perhaps even three, run very smoothly with ups and downs, and failures and triumphs ticked on both the parallel stories. Families emerge so do the businesses. Aravind becomes a successful businessman while Arbaaz becomes a mafia don (not menacing!) cum cabinet minister later. Business in our country always has a political affiliation and that is strongly put across. Bribery and money laundering is very common and is the key behind every political action. Every deal signed, every time the stock market goes up or down- everything is mastered by someone hidden behind the curtain somewhere. A support system is placed for both the characters playing very important roles. While Abdul dada is Arbaaz’s mentor and a second father, Aravind depends mainly on his friends. Arbaaz keeps his family and friends together while Aravind doesn’t shy away from throwing them out of his lives. The contrast in the characters is well projected. Arbaaz seems clearer in his mind than Aravind. The methods implemented by both the men aren’t legal or moral. Conclusion- no one is white in this saga.
It becomes evident at one point that the lives of Aravind and Arbaaz would meet but somewhere the much awaited union lacks the intensity needed. Everything seems so simple and common in the second half of the book- years of hatred, conning each other at every opportunity, struggle with wife and children, betrayal, etc. As the pages are eaten and the end approaches, excitement begins to build. The leads have grown old and it is time for some action and revelation. I was waiting to read how the history was going to be connected to the present. I was disappointed. The revelation is a fizzle at the end. It makes no connection with the decades of story written before. It stands alone as a separate story at the end. The historical reference and the subsequent connection are forced too quickly at the end that it lacked the needed knockout punch. In fact, the history gets connected and actually referred only near the end. It would have been better if the connection was made evident throughout the narrative. When the revelation is reached, we are left with wanting more. ‘Sialkot’ plays its part but not to the extent expected.
The story also includes nearly all the major events of our nation, all the political leaders and their growth, calamities, movies and other events from across the world like the attack on WTC. While certain events are structured to be part of the story and has a role to play, most of the others are just passing cloud. It seemed like a list of all the events were made and was injected into the story.
The book stays neutral to most part of the incidents that our nation had faced in the past 50 years.
The book comes across very complex when compared to the author’s previous outings. The business strategies are very complicated to understand at many instances. Perhaps, it was a way to project Aravind’s genius mind. In addition, at the later end, science overtakes economics.
All the supporting casts leave a mark. Abdul Dada as mentor, wife Paromita, Murali his friend are Arbaaz’s support system. Aravind, on the other hand, doesn’t embrace support system and doesn’t shy away from throwing away people close to him- be it Joydeep or Satyapal or his own son.
Downside- the book had lot of errors which was surprising. The golden print in the cover also faded away with few handles.
The Sialkot Saga is not a bad read but definitely falls short of expectations. The book succeeds in building the interest for the first three decades and becomes repetitive after that. The witty lines which are the highlights of the first half becomes a rarity in the second. Characters and instances are forced and the narrative becomes hasty to cover all the nation’s events. Somewhere, the author loses the grip which he tries to recover at the end. The book would be a best seller no doubt, but if the story had been crisper with impactful situations, especially in the second half, when the two leads were involved, the book would have reached the benchmark set by the author’s other works.