evil aliens to the rescue?
Aliens in Delhi
Author - Sami Ahmad Khan
Publisher - Niyogi, Rs 350
What would it take for warring nations of the world to come together and support each other for once — will it have to be an attack by a new race of dangerous people, aliens, maybe? This gripping novel examines, writes SANYA DANG
A well-researched thriller set in familiar terrain — Delhi which has been at the receiving end of many threats and acts of terrorism. The political centre becomes the target of an alien invasion of sorts by a race of reptilians. This premise should be enough to hook you to this unputdownable novel which you takes you all over the capital city — from Punjabi Bagh to Vasant Vihar, JNU and the Prime Minister’s residence. The narrative is spread over 68 hours and starts backwards — it may be confusing at first but you do get a hang of it few ‘ hours into the invasion’ . It goes back and forth in time and place with different events playing out in different parts of the world. This fractured mode of storytelling is connected by a clock ticking (a time keeper of sorts to alleviate the confusion) that chronicles the hours left for the invasion to begin.
The reader is made to travel everywhere from Paris to Punjab , Washington to Kashmir. The novel is structured with a Prologue, Epilogue and is divided into three parts. The title, of course , needs no elaboration. The cover is a melange of landmarks and clues — the Qutab Minar, India Gate, aliens , spaceships, UFOs , helicopters, fighter planes et al. The sun is rising over the Aravalli range with Army jeeps and soldiers ready to shoot.
The novel is dedicated to ISRO — Indian Space Research Organisation for “their untiring and exemplary endeavours that give wings to countless dreams”.
The language of the novel befits the education and profession of the author — it is very clearly the language of a scholar, highbrow and extremely articulate. The author’s background is not surprising — an English professor — especially with regard to the considerable in depth research and the vocabulary. There is a line at the beginning of the Prologue which made quite and impact on me — “ A gentle ripple ran through the polluted air above Delhi’s Ring Road as the Qa’haQ planetary landing vehicle uncloaked for a split second and shimmered into existence. Some pieces of junk — which human cars kicked into the atmosphere with an alarming nonchalance — had collided with the invisibility shields. The organic circuitry of the ship chattered to compensate for this tactile assault.” The words fly off the page and yet shock you into reading them again slowly to appreciate the nuanced way in which the author has carefully yet callously , craftily yet casually ‘launched’ certain words in a sentence — words that leap into immediate meanings with a certain depth layered with a ‘nonchalance’ that is so original that it blows your mind.
The genre is a relatively new one, especially in the arena of Indian writing in English. Jules Verne ,H.G Wells and Isaac Asimov may be regarded as the legends of Science Fiction worldwide but in India this genre is not as developed. The writers trying to popularise it are Manjula Padmanabhan , Suraj Clark Prasad, Anil Menon, Mainak Dhar and Shovon Chowdhury. In Sami Ahmad Khan’ s own words, “ Indian Science Fiction in English still has a lot of uncharted space to explore — whether in terms of ideas , themes or narratives. My book begins as a political thriller and then mutates into SF. This ‘genetic mutation’ of the narrative is intended to tell a crazy story, something that makes the reader see the old in a new light ( cell phone radiation as a possible mutagen ) and the new in an old light ( humanised extraterrestrials)”. The novel in its extensive capacity raises some significant questions — can two warring nations take one side to battle an alien race and a bigger threat? Is it possible for our people to cast aside their differences and work together to thwart the advances of a dangerous enemy? The narrative in its complexity makes you wonder and ponder over simple truths.
It seems to explore more than just what is on the surface — interplanetary exploration , alternate realities , time travel and life on a planet away from the one we inhabit. The Roman — a clef ( key to the novel ) is the over exposure of cell phone radiation on human DNA which leads to mutation. Every experiment described and theory proposed here is written after extensive and hands on research — the author gets all the scientific facts correct to the T.
A brilliant novel by a writer whose debut thriller — Red Jihad won enough awards , whose fiction , research papers and articles have been published by leading journals across the globe. This book is so well written, it doesn’t seem like his second. Aliens is Delhi is the sequel to Khan’s debut — themed around time travel and alternate history. The pace is racy and with its share of parallel plots and twists and turns at every point. The only flaw in the narrative is that sometimes too many things are happening at once and we feel we are losing that thread which ties it all up.
The city of Delhi may not be a character here but it surely is a significant part. It sets the pace and the backdrop and acts as decision making centre ( the privilege of which is usually given to the cities of USA in every disaster movie). In the context of the narrative he spins, it all seems logical , nothing seems amiss. Every event is rooted in reality and not in the category of ‘ crazy’. The unpredictability of the plot adds to the suspense, Khan’s attention to detail and brilliant manner of connecting the dots will leave the reader gasping for more. The author’s imagination may be termed wild by many but as he himself says — “Are we prepared for an alien attack? What if Jadoo (from the Bollywood remake of E.T.) comes back and is not in the mood to make friends this time ? Who you gonna call then?”
The reviewer is teacher by profession, writer by passion
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