Murky world of dismantled bodies
The Mahabharata murders
Author- Arnab Ray
Publisher- Juggernaut, Rs 350
This novel about gory murders is packed with gripping twists and turns. In less than 300 pages, novelist Arnab Ray manages to narrate an interesting tale, and what adds to his credit is the fact that he links it with the Mahabharata, writes ASTHA JOSHI
Arnab Ray’s murder mystery falls on our historical epic, Mahabharata, for its narrative frame. The novel opens with a murder and follows a sequence of gory killings, but the author successfully packs in numerous other threads to keep the readers hooked. The protagonists, investigator duo Ruksana and Siddhanth, are not the usual dull-brained cops but those who don’t mind risking themselves while taking on those in elitist positions. In this short and crisp work, Ray creates believable characters involved in an unusual deadly sport. The characters are multifaceted and with the turn of every page, readers find themselves deeper into the murky world of dismantled bodies.
The characters are large in number and each one is contoured as a complete individual in himself. Obviously the males outnumber the females, but the single female character is the one carrying the narrative on her shoulders. We see Ruksana battling with her personal demon, the violent ex-husband within the domestic space and then covering up her bruises to carry on her professional responsibilities. Ray creates an extremely strong, powerful, and passionate female complete with her vulnerabilities. She finds comfort in alcohol and accepts her passion for Siddhanth. Ruksana is also aware of what she feels for Pavitra Chatterjee. Though, at first it seems that the latter gets involved in the puzzling murders against his wish, it is quite towards the end that we are made aware of his true intentions. The character of Pavitra Chatterjee has also been crafted in multiple layers. Initially, he is portrayed as a politician, the next CM, with a crystal clear social image. He offers help to the murder investigators, making himself accessible and even going out of his way to meet Ruksana to discuss the progress made. His interest further pushes him away from the police’s list of suspects. Also, he denies any security cover the police wishes to provide in the wake of unexplained killing rampage. His uncanny ability to turn up wherever Ruksana is alone, also works in favour of his character, without anyone questioning his superhuman skills. Though all these add up to his calculated moves which are revealed later, the reader may not find herself questioning Pavitra often through the novel. Extremely eloquent, intelligent, and poised, Chatterjee is sketched as a politician who strives to serve the citizens and considers his duty to help the police tighten the noose on the psycho killer.
Ray is also very imaginative while penning down the modus operandi of the different murders. Each victim falls prey in a way which is linked to a particular aspect of his/her life revealed at some turn of the novel. Moreover, all the dead characters are linked to each other and these connections are another engaging thread created by the novelist. Each of Ray’s character is an image of Mahabharata siblings and the much-wronged Draupadi. It is Chatterjee who draws analogy between those killed and the Mahabharata characters, as an attempt to enable the investigators crack down the case. But why is Pavitra Chatterjee so interested in helping the police? Is it merely the good intention of bringing the culprit behind the bars or is he trying to lead or turn the investigation in a certain way?
Siddhanth, officially the junior of Ruksana, is another major character. Ray has made sure to provide an engaging and justified background to his life too. He believes more in the use of muscle power rather than the grey matter. Though actively involved in all stages of investigation with Ruksana, his sudden death creates an atmosphere of heightened tension towards the latter half of the novel. Is his death also a part of the Mahabharata Murders or was he more than just an innocent victim? His relationship with Ruksana also represents a perspective on their characters. He doesn’t approve of her lunch meetings with Chatterjee, celebrates her birthday with him, and protects her more than once from her abusive ex-husband.
Whom readers take to be a minor character for a large part of the novel, Abirlal-da, Chatterjee’s confidante, turns out to be another pillar of the narrative. Abirlal, or the Karna, whose identity is marginal, emerges as a last piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Chatterjee successfully hides his hatred towards whom he shows to be his closest in personal as well as political life. Ray builds up gripping suspense through the length of the novel and it is only in the last chapter that our holier than thou politician spills the beans on his life. It is here that he enlightens the struggling investigator how he is the Yudhistira and all along had been the puppeteer on whose tunes Siddhanth and Abirlal had been swinging; and even Ruksana to a certain extent.
The mystery is tightly woven and packed gripping enough twists and turns. In less than 300 pages, the novelist manages to narrate an interesting tale, and it adds to his credit that he links it interestingly with the Mahabharata. His characters are well thought-out and detailed. The story moves at a good pace and does not drag too much.
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