Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Ekkos Clan 
Sudipto Das


Sudipto Das’ Ekkos Clan begins with gusto. The eerie feeling that something is not right in the village Noakhali, the simmering fears of a backlash by majority Muslims on the minority Hindus of East Pakistan has been described alarming accuracy. Das brings out the uneasy calm of a village in the interior whose inhabitants co-existed for centuries without fear or favour.
Just when you begin to marvel at Das’ insight of a small East Pakistan village caught in the throes of partition, comes the rather rude punch – Das has designed this novel as a kind of Indian reply to Dan Brown’s 'The Da Vinci Code' and several of its cheap clones that emerged in the wake of its success.
The story shifts from Noakhali and Kolkata of 1947 to contemporary US where Kratu the protagonist is an ex-engineer who teaches music to kids using only three basic notes, which he had heard from his elder sister who had died in a car accident. A Pakistani girl, Afsar Fareedi happens to pass by this strange outdoor music class and befriends Kratu and both begin to search for scattered bricks from Kratu’s ancestry to build a castle without any foundation.
Das scripts an incredible Hindu organization, Hiranyagarbha Bharat, which believed that they were descendants of the original Aryans and the Aryans originated in North India, in the Hindukush mountains and from there spread to the Middle East and Europe. The members of this organization strive towards the death of any evidence that proved otherwise.
The plot may not have seemed so hollow had the writer crafted the story well. First of all, if you compare the Christian church with a fledgling Hindu organization, the Church is far, far more powerful with an unending flow of funds from billions of believers. Das clips the wings of this (fictitious?) organization by stating that the RSS was not in favour of their philosophy. If the fiercely fanatic Hindu RSS does not back the theory that the Aryans originated in the Greater Indian territory and then spread to the West, then who will provide the tiny organization with the funds required to carry out assassinations spread over nearly a century? And why are the killings executed by only members of one family - were there no other members of Hiranyagarbha Bharat? Granted that Kubha was the sole survivor of an Aryan-culture tribe, would all the erstwhile historians of the world have changed their opinion on the basis of verbal evidence of one woman who was not even educated properly?
Second, the possibility of Aryan rituals (4000 BC) being preserved by a few villages in the Hindukush mountains (present Afghanistan, ruled by Muslim rulers ever since the spread of Islam) is rendered laughable when Das takes one of Kratu’s grand-uncles to the Hindukush from Calcutta in the 1920s and has him bring back a young girl who remembers all the customs of the Aryans (from 4000+1920 = 5920 years ago) who volunteers to be raped in order to save her children from certain death, later marries a Bengali Muslim and avenges her rapists years after the incident, rises to become an important social worker in Bangladesh with unfettered access to diplomatic privileges.
The entire novel meanders through a maze of characters of whom Kratu is the protagonist. Kratu keeps shifting his affections from his (unknown to him) half-sister Ananya, his cousin Teesta (nicknamed Tits - it is a riddle why a girl educated in America would allow herself to be called by a name which would invite leery comments all her life), then to the Pakistani girl Afsar and then to Bahrouz.
The story includes a vendetta angle which stretches from one generation to the other, from Afghanistan to Bangladesh to Maharashtra to the US of A. I fail to understand what a fanatic university student hopes to achieve by digitally changing a Harrappan seal into a horse: it's only a digital reproduction of the real seal - will other universities/museums not have the original with them?
The characterisations, apart from the first part that describes partition riots in erstwhile East Pakistan, are too flimsy to be taken seriously. Though Teesta and Kratu seem to share many things in common, the writer almost makes Teesta fall in love with Kratu but he chooses just that time to fall for Afsar. However, when Teesta learns of Kratu's affection for Afsar, she joins in with Jhimli to pull his leg. Won't a girl in flesh and blood feel bad if the boy she had an affection for turns to another girl? Agreed there was no commitment, but commitment is a legal feeling. Emotions always exist in minor forms and come to the fore when they are hurt. That aspect has not been explored by the writer.
To his credit, the author has spent a lot of time researching the history of the Aryans but instead of fiction, he converts the novel into a classroom of ancient history, archaeology and etymology. Though some of the analogies seem plausible, there are plenty of loopholes that the writer is unable to fill.
This novel had promise, the writer has a flair for writing. However the plotting and overall structure of the novel make it confusing. India's Dan Brown will have to wait. The question is: do we really need one?

The Blurb
 "The Ekkos Clan" is the story of Kratu’s search for the killers of his family, his own roots and the mystery behind his grandmother’s stories.

It’s the fascinating account of Kubha and the basketful of folklore she inherited from her ancestors. The eventful lives of Kubha and her family span a hundred years and encompass turbulent phases of Indian history. The family saga unfurls gradually, along with Kubha’s stories, through the three main characters – Kratu Sen, a grad student at Stanford, Kratu’s best friend Tista Dasgupta, and Afsar Fareedi, a linguistic palaeontologist.

Afsar hears about Kubha’s stories from Kratu in a casual conversation, but she figures that these stories are not meant to be mere bed time tales – they contain rich linguistic fossils and layers of histories.

In a bizarre incident Kratu miraculously survives an attempt on his life. His sister and uncle had not been so lucky. Were these murders acts of revenge, or a larger ideological conflict connected to Kubha’s stories which conceal perilous secrets that should be suppressed?

Afsar, Kratu and Tista travel across continents to unravel the mystery of Kubha’s roots and the origin of her stories.

At a different level, the novel subtly delves into the origin of one of the oldest civilizations of the world and the first book written by mankind.

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Meet the Author

Sudipto was born in Calcutta to a family which fled Bangladesh during the partition riots of 1947. He grew up listening horrid stories of the partition, something which he has used extensively in his debut novel The Ekkos Clan. He completed his engineering from IIT Kharagpur in 1996. He lives in Bangalore.

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Media Mentions 

"A promising debut in the growing realm of modern Indian fiction" - Jug Suraiya 

"An Indian thriller inspired by Dan Brown & Harrison Ford!... fast-paced thriller, replete with murder and miraculous escapes" - Telegraph 

"If you are a history buff and a thriller aficionado, then [it] might just be the book for you" - The Hindu 

"A tale of the Indian civilization and culture... takes you on a roller coaster ride" - The New Indian Express 

"An interesting read for an afternoon... One feisty woman's partition story" - Bangalore Mirror 

"Should be read for its sheer aspiration and the intelligent handling of historical material" - The Sunday Guardian 

"Is essentially a mystery novel, but is grounded in a substantial base of research and exploration into our past" -

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Unknown said...

Hi Neel, thanks for reading my book with care and writing a detailed review. For an author, any feedback is welcome as every reader has a different and unique perspective and an author has to only accept every point raised with all humility. That's the secret to improve too.

I would just like to point to a few things. I believe they are not quoted properly from my book or being misunderstood.

About the Hiranyagarbha Bharat - yes, this is fictional, but the background is correct. Amartya Sen has mentioned of an incident (I've mentioned before prologue in the book) in his Argumentative Indian, on which I've built up the entire thing. So though the name is fictitious, the background is not. And how they get funding? I've implicitly mentioned that they get funding from NRIs. Yes, funding is not much and hence these groups can't do anything much - as I've also shown in my book. Why they are after one family? Because that's what they can do. They think such small things will yield great dividend. They are wrong indeed. A close look at the incident mentioned by Amartya Sen will make it clear. 80% of what I've written and what sounds weird is actually true. That's the reality, hum kya karein. Log pagal hote hain... :)

I never stated that rituals as old as 4000BC are preserved by a family. I always said close to 2000BC. And yes, there's indeed few families still left in Pakistan who have preserved 4000 years old (not 4000BC but 4000 years in total) rituals - you can refer to the series run by National Geographic on Kalash. I've also given the reference of a book called The Empires of Indus. An English journalist, Alice Albinia, actually traveled to those places and confirmed all the things I've used. So whatever you read in my book are all true. I've also confirmed the same with Michael Witzel, a professor at Harvard and an authority on Indo-Aryan history. Yes, it all sounds ludicrous, but then realities or often so.

I think I never showed that Tista actually fell in love with Kratu. In fact even before Afsar comes into picture she already has a boyfriend, you might have missed. And regarding the nickname Tits - well, she didn't get the name in US. I've mentioned she got it in IIT and believe me girls in IIT (I'm an alumnus of one) have even more horrible nicknames and we still call them by those names even in the US. That's again a weird thing, but reality.

Everything else you've said are your views and I do respect every view f every reader. Thanking you again for taking time out and reading my book and then writing such a detailed review.


From the heart-need said...

Thanks for commenting here Sudipto. I don't contest the veracity of your incidents. From the book it is quite clear that you have done your research thoroughly and are true to it in all respects. My only worry is that in a fiction novel, some things need to be pepped up while some things need to be peppered down. All in all, your research overpowers the story.