Fascinating yet familiar

A journalist meets a hermit with an exciting, secret, almost unbelievable past. The man dies, leaving behind a will and a trunk-load of memoirs for the journalist — the only man he trusts. As the weather beaten pages come to life, it takes readers into a none-too-distant past, when India was on the verge of gaining Independence and plunges them into a world of intrigue, love, lust and betrayal — a world that is in part purely fictional, and yet, depressingly familiar even in 2013.

A Piece of The Giant may be a work of fiction, but a lot of what unfolds in it is a reflection of what happened before and after the Partition. GETTY Images

A Piece Of The Giant by Anupam Srivastava, is a novel set in pre and immediate post-Independence India. The story begins at the kingdom of Teekra near Lucknow where its king is worried about the possibility of his kingdom being annexed by the British. Over the next 300 pages the novel moves from the sacred temple of Teekra and its rustic huts to dark bylanes of the nation’s capital and from the palace of the Raja to the bungalows in Lutyens’ Delhi – taking us through the last days of the British Raj.

The plot revolves mainly around three characters – Raja Daulat Singh, the king of Teekra, his son Pratap and Vidya Babu — a fiery freedom fighter who becomes one of the nation’s most powerful ministers after 1947. The Raja, perhaps the most colorful and complex character in the plot, emerges as both a hero and the one of the main villains, rising from being yet another corrupt local king to be in the forefront of the freedom movement only to discover a world of broken promises and betrayal once the promised freedom has been achieved.

Srivastava does not pull any punches as he paints a saga of freedom fighters who speak of equality but overnight become as corrupt as the British officers they replace; of leaders who espouse virtues of thrift but move into bungalows vacated by their colonial masters and use the same police force that beat them up till yesterday, to quell voices of protest against their own government. It’s anybody’s guess who the leaders are in this sordid saga. The one man the author does name is Mahatma Gandhi but only to show how the great man’s prayers, strategies and teachings were blatantly ignored, violated and tweaked by the same men and women who claimed to be his avowed followers.

The other main protagonist is the Raja’s son, Prince Pratap, a hero if there ever was one and who finally awakens the Raja to the realities he has so far ignored. Pratap’s story is almost the subject of a parallel novel – a confused young prince who turns into a folk hero.

In parts the novel does border on the unreal. Srivastava disappoints when he brings in and almost glorifies “supernatural powers of tantriks” and shows his characters walking up walls or magically acquiring divine powers for a few hours. The lengthy interviews and conversation that Prince Pratap, (who incidentally becomes a journalist after leaving the palace in a huff) has with the Father of the Nation also seem a little out of place at times.

However, these do not take away from the overall pace of the novel. The characters of Vidya Babu, the freedom fighter turned top minister (guess who), Pratap’s lifelong love Malati and others all play important roles in the novel. Srivastava brings in some of his own newsroom experience (before he took to writing novels, he was part of some of the biggest newsrooms in the country at The Times Of India and Mail Today) into the book by creating colourful characters out of editors and reporters, bringing to the fore how publishing houses over the decades have often cosied up to certain political parties.

While this is a work of fiction, make no mistake – a lot of what unfolds in A Piece of the Giant is a reflection of what happened during and after Partition. Yes it is biased, yes it pulls no punches and you might violently disagree with the book. I did so too, in parts, but that didn’t stop me from reading cover to cover in 36 hours.

Love, lust, intrigue, drama and a very unusual ending – this novel has it all that it takes to make a box office hit. A good read that may be made into a film one day, if there’s a producer gutsy enough to back it.

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