Stories have always ruled my world. Right from my childhood. Whether it's fiction or a real incident, as long as someone narrates it in an interesting way, I am game. Nothing fascinates me more than a good story.
When I grew up and started reading novels, I entered into a whole new world – a world where I made a lot of new friends, a world in which I want to spend the rest of my life.
Talking of reading novels, thriller/mystery has always been my favourite genre. Although I enjoy other genres too, a good thriller on any given day works better. Nothing beats that. Romance is the only genre I don't prefer. And horror/paranormal is the only genre I wished to have read, but never could (for reasons unknown).
After watching the movie, The Shining, I cursed myself for not having read the novel first. However, that got me thinking. When it comes to Indian authors, there are of course superb storytellers like R. K. Narayan, Amitav Ghosh, Vikas Swarup, but there has never been an author who could make up for a thriller similar to Forsyth or Ludlum or King. Sure there are plenty of award winning writers like Adiga and Rushdie, but in my humble opinion, they are not as entertaining as Archer, Sheldon, Brown and the lot. (Ashwin Sanghi and Amish are exceptions, maybe. I haven’t read them yet. So can’t speak for them.) Genre authors are scarce in India. But this all changed when I picked up a brilliant novel called Kaivalya, by Sumana Khan.
Until Kaivalya happened, as I said earlier, I had never read a paranormal thriller. Set in the midst of lush forests of Sakleshpura, Karnataka, it starts off with a bang. Before you know it you are sucked mercilessly into deep forests and the mystery that unfolds there.
Kencha, a tribal, is found dead in the forest under strange circumstances. His body is branded with a mysterious message written in Halegannada, an ancient and defunct version of modern day Kannada. As Dhruv Kaveriappa, the Chief Conservator of Forests, starts investigating, it gets more and more complicated with each step he and his team take in the forest. Animals die for no reason. An ominous shadow hovers around the people. A vacationing tourist finds an ancient gold and diamond studded pendent in the forest. If you find all these things horrific, then wait till the woman wears the pendent …
Parallel to what is happening in and around the forest, a handsome man in his mid-twenties, Neel, starts experiencing strange things in his lavish penthouse in Bangalore.
The branded message on the tribal man written in Halegannada speaks of Vijayanagar Empire of the 1500s.
What is Kaivalya? Or perhaps who? What is Kaivalya’s story? What is the relation between Kaivalya’s story and the dreadful things that are happening now? How is the Vijayanagar era linked to the present day, i.e. 2005? (Yes, the story is set in 2005. There is a reason for it and you’ll know when you read it) If these things don’t stir your curiosity, then what will?
The two stories (one that is happening in Sakleshpura and the other in Bangalore) that seem unrelated to each other merge towards the end and bring the story to a shattering climax. The truth is far more terrifying than you could have imagined.
I have watched a lot of horror movies that provide a lot of good thrills. But can a book provide the same amount of goose bumps, I wondered. That was before I picked up Kaivalya. Sure it has a lot of scenes that will make you jump. And this is where Sumana Khan scores. Scaring the readers is not easy. For instance, a movie has a lot of things to offer – performance of the actors, a forbidding background music, camera angles, etc. But when it comes to a book of a similar genre, it’s a different ballgame altogether. You only have the power of your words to paint that scary picture.
As I read on, I could hear the screams of the victims, I could smell the foul smell that occupies the house and forest, an indication that something terrible is about to happen, or perhaps, that has already happened. I could even feel that menacing shadow hovering above me when I’d slept for a while after reading about 80 pages. That’s the effect the book will have on you.
Then again, it’s not a typical whodunit story. The twists come subtly, when you’ll be least expecting. The characters come alive beautifully. All are ordinary people going about their lives in an easy manner. But when the same ordinary people are thrown into an abyss of horror and mystery, when pitted against an impossible enemy, they don’t have any other option except to fight the battle in an extraordinary way.
Characterization is one of the most important aspects of storytelling. And Sumana Khan handles it expertly. There are plenty of characters and each one of them has an important role to play. None of them is sidelined. Be it Drhuv, the hero; his love interest, Tara, DSP Joshi, Dr. Bala and Dr. Nithya, Shivranjani and her husband Ravikanth, Inspector Rao, Neel and his friend VJ, Inspector Shakti, Arundhati and finally, a bewitching, cold-blooded villain, Matchu – one of the best negative characters I’ve ever come across. Brutal, handsome, a genius in his game. He’s certainly one of the highlights of the novel. Whether you are a man or a woman, you just can’t stop yourself from falling prey to his charms.
Each and every character will be etched in your memory. Although some of the characters are away from the main action scene, yet fighting their own battle, they are all interlinked and brought together in the end to fight the bigger enemy. As a reader and as a person with a lofty ambition of writing a novel someday, this, to me, was an important lesson in storytelling.
Right from the first page to the last, the pace never falters. It moves at a rattling speed. And when the climax hits you, you’ll be dumbfounded. The last paragraph or for that matter, the last line is like a kick in the gut. It takes sometime to come out of Kaivalya’s effect. This is how a good story should be. It shouldn’t leave you even after the last page is turned.
There are one or two weak points in the story though, but they are trivial and sure to go unnoticed. Not related to the main plot. For example, a character called Shivanna, (a close associate of the protagonist Dhruv), who is depicted like an important character in the beginning of the story, suddenly disappears. He never comes back into the story. Whatever happened to him is never revealed.
Anyway, in the midst of stupid novels with stupid names (Oh, Shit! Not Again, to name one) that are coming into the Indian market, Kaivalya is a welcome change. For one, no other Indian author (at least not to my knowledge) has tried this genre.
All in all, this is a brave book written for brave readers. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. If you enjoy horror / mystery / paranormal thrillers, then don't miss this.
You can order the book here.