The Imperative Subterfuge: A Review

Hitler v/s Gandhi’ is a theme many people have contemplated. Instead of just stopping there, popular satirist blogger Rickie Khosla goes ahead and weaves an entire novella around this interesting premise. It was indeed interesting seeing serious fiction from a writer whose humorous works you have been acquainted with. The title of the book is quite intriguing and that along with the Nazi Swastika on the cover illustration makes one curious and want to pick up the book.

The language is quite good and at the same time the prose does not become as heavy as to intimidate the reader. The work is richly sprinkled with memorable lines, especially on political philosophy. The characters are really well etched and the reader can easily relate to the emotions of the characters. The story maintains a steady pace and the book can be finished in one reading.

The series of events have been plotted quite meticulously and lends an air of plausibility. However personally I am more inclined to agree with Leo Tolstoy that individuals are just pawns in the flow of history and do not really deserve the importance some historians place on them. But any opinions on these matters cannot be anything beyond mere speculations. So personal prejudices aside I fully appreciate the alternate history plotted by Rickie Khosla.

The story could have been much more compelling if the author had taken the point of view of a single character and created an intense conflict running through the novel. Currently the story is laid out like a jigsaw puzzle with things falling in place one by one as we move along. That is an interesting style as well and I am partial to that style as a writer but as a reader I think I prefer the other style.

Many of the characters make brief appearances and one wishes one could have seen more of them. This definitely has scope for a much bigger novel where these characters are explored as well. This book is definitely worth a read for anyone who is in to reading books by current day Indian authors and I would rank it close to top of the pack.

Details of Book and Author

The book link is The Imperative Subterfuge

The author's blog is Who cares what I think?

In the event that you do not have a Kindle you can download apps for reading Kindle books on PCs, laptops and Smartphones from this link

Four Letters and a Phone Call - V

She was trying to focus on her books when she was suddenly jolted by the announcement of her name on the public announcement system at the hostel. She wondered who was calling at this time of the evening. This was not the time her parents usually called.

She quickly walked down and picked up the call. “Hello. Who is this?

There was a pause. Then slowly the receiver came to life. “Is it Sarah? This is Phani.

Her heart skipped a beat. It was the first time she was hearing his voice ever since they had started corresponding.

Are you there?

His voice sounded anxious.

Yes,” she replied. There was so much they had to say to each other but words had clearly deserted both of them and they found themselves fumbling for the simplest of words.

Well, did you get my last letter?

I did.

He waited for her reaction. But none was forthcoming. So he continued.

I got this weird letter from someone claiming to be your friend.

Her heart sunk. This was not sounding positive at all. Had her friend’s brilliant idea not worked out? She had no clue what to say. So she remained silent

He waited for her reaction and after a while spoke up again. “Are you still there?

Yes. Tell me,” she replied in a feeble voice.

Her lukewarm response was beginning to infuriate him. “So you have no idea about this so called friend of yours?

No. No. Rachel is my best friend.

So you only asked her to write the letter?

Now where was this heading? What was she to say?

What happened now? Cat got your tongue? If you are not interested in speaking to me, tell me. I will keep the damn phone down this very minute.

No. Please don’t keep the phone down.

So you finally found your voice, eh? Let us leave the topic of your friend. Did you get my last letter?

I did,” she said after a short pause.

And so what is your response?

Don’t you think we are rushing things? Shouldn’t we take some time and think things out?

Is that supposed to be a no? You do not wish to marry me?

You have been such a good friend to me,” she said weakly.

The usual just friends dialogue, eh? So it was never love at all this while? I should have known this was coming. You girls do this to guys all the time, right? Make use of us when you need us, play with our emotions, build up our hopes and then finally say that we are just friends!

His voice had by now hit a feverish pitch. He was fuming with rage. Even from such a distance the heat of his fury was seething her. She had never seen him like this. It frightened her to see him like this.

She broke down into sobs. “Please, don’t say such unkind things to me.

He was completely disgusted. These women! She had answered none of his questions. Whenever logic failed, they had their favorite weapon. They would just turn on the tap and bring the men to their knees. But he knew better. He was not bowing to this emotional blackmail. He had enough of her. He slammed the phone down!

He was fuming even after he got back to his room. He had to smoke a full pack of cigarettes before his nerves calmed down a bit. Then he noticed a large envelope lying near the door of his room. He wondered what it was. He opened it apprehensively. He wondered what knew trouble it heralded. The moment he read its contents, his spirits soared to the skies. His application for Masters in Physics at the University of Stockholm had been accepted! It seemed like a sign from heaven. Physics was his true love. He had lost his way the past three years blinded by love. Now his vision had cleared. This was the opportunity to bring his life back on track.

She wept the whole day. She did not know what to do. A week passed by with no communication from him. One day as she sat brooding over Phani, suddenly her name was announced on public announcement system. She ran to the phone excitedly. But it was not Phani. It was her mother. Her parents had got a marriage proposal for her from a distant relative based out of UK. He was willing to let her finish her studies and was willing to support her higher studies in UK as well. It was a dream proposal as far as her parents were concerned. She was in a dilemma. She could not think of any reasonable objection as such. With things about Phani so uncertain, she saw no reason to upset her parents. So she did not raise any objections. The next couple of days, she tried to call Phani a couple of times. But he was always unreachable. She was not sure if he was busy or purposely avoiding her. But there was only so much she could do.

Time, they say is the best healer and add it to the good news of his application for higher studies being accepted, Phani’s mood had greatly improved. He felt probably he had not been entirely fair to Sarah and decided to speak to her again. He called her up at her hostel. After a long wait a new female voice greeted him. “Hi, I am Sarah’s friend. She is not here this weekend. She is in her hometown for her engagement.

The news hurt him. But in a way, it gave him a sense of closure. It kind of freed him of guilt. As far as she was concerned, she was back to being the obedient, dutiful daughter. It was not in her nature to go against the tide. But a sense of loss and sadness would prevail in the depth of both their hearts forever.

Beginning of the Series        : Four Letters and a Phone Call - I
Previous Post in the Series  : Four Letters and a Phone Call - IV

Four Letters and a Phone Call - IV

It is more than a week. I still have not responded to Rachel’s letter. Sarah has not responded to mine. A stalemate situation I would say. How do I break this deadlock? Do I capitulate and write back to that friend of hers? Well, I can’t even if I want to. I have torn up that letter that had her address. So what do I do? Should I try writing to Sarah again? Will she respond if I write to her after I have chosen to ignore that letter from her friend?

My life feels so hollow. Nowadays nothing really interests me. I used to be so excited about Physics. Nowadays I can hardly get myself to read any Physics. I have completely lost interest in studies. My grades have been dipping continuously. But what can I do? My mind refuses to focus on anything other than her. Whenever I open my books, her lovely face comes before my eyes and I lose myself in its ethereal beauty. I still vividly remember seeing that face around three years back at the coaching center. It had been love at first sight. That slight petite frame, the oval face, and those large innocent eyes: I had been totally bowled over. She had looked like an angel descended on earth.

I have lost interest in talking to most of my friends also. I do not feel like talking about any topic other than Sarah. I have confided about Sarah to only two of my friends. So that restricts my entire society to just these two guys. But I am glad at least these two guys are there to talk to or I will go mad. It was one of them who helped me find Sarah in the first place. I had been completely smitten by her beauty from the moment I had seen her the first time. I could not forget her even after coming to college. That face, soft rich brown like freshly roasted coffee beans and the flowing hair dark like the night itself kept flashing before my eyes. But all I knew was she had gone to a medical college in Kerala. I did not even know which college she had gone to. I had mentioned about it casually to Joseph one day. Instead of laughing at my infatuation, he had taken things rather seriously and had offered to find her for me. He is from Kerala and has a wide network of friends in all medical and engineering colleges across the state. He had activated the network and in no time I knew where she was.

As my mind wanders through the maze of thoughts, my fingers unconsciously part the pages of my ‘Resnick and Halliday’ to unearth a very important sheet of paper buried deep within: her first letter to me. It reads, “Nice of you to take time and write to me. I am doing well. How are you doing? Of course, I remember you. Who can forget the smart boy of the class? The number of Irodov problems you solved was a legend. We were all sure you would definitely make it to IIT and you did. So how are you finding IIT?

I remembered how that letter had taken me to the seventh heaven of joy. I had grabbed at the opening she had given me with both hands and had immediately responded to her. The letters had got longer and longer as time passed. Every letter I wrote to her seemed to me like a work of art I was crafting. I spent an entire day, sometimes two thinking over the exact words to use, the jokes that could make her laugh, drawings that could make her happy. She on her part opened up completely and poured out her heart in her letters. It was as if I was at the medical college and seeing everything through her eyes. It made me feel so special to be part of her life: her academics, her friends and her problems.

I can’t even bear the thought of life without her. I know what I will do. I will call her. That would be much better than letters. It is time we spoke directly to each other.

Beginning of the Series        :  Four Letters and a Phone Call - I
Previous Part                      :  Four Letters and a Phone Call - III
Concluding Part                  :  Four Letters and a Phone Call - V

Four Letters and a Phone Call - III

I was so lucky to have a friend like Rachel. She had immediately agreed to help me. She will take care of everything. I had full faith in her.

Ten days had passed however with absolutely no communication whatsoever from either Phani or Rachel. I was beginning to feel very restless. Had something gone wrong? Whenever I had some problem, Phani had been the strong pillar for me to lean back on. Now that the problem was related to Phani himself who would I lean on? No point calling up Rachel and pestering her either. If she had heard from Phani, she would have informed me. Instead I decided to seek solace in the one thing that never failed to cheer me up: the stack of letters from Phani that I had preserved carefully in the inner drawer of my cupboard. I sat down on my bed and ran my fingers over them one by one. There seemed to be some magic in them. Their very touch seemed to fill my heart with joy.

My eyes fell on the very first letter from him. It started, “Hi, Sarah. Do you remember me? I was with you in the engineering and medical entrance coaching.

Of course I had remembered him quite well. He was that well-built guy of medium height who usually frequented the back benches. He hardly ever used to open his mouth in class. What had caught my attention was his bronze colored hair. It stood out stubbornly like a crown. He used to remind me of the character Jughead from Archie comics. He looked funny with his turned up nose, lively eyes and his mouth always in a kind of lazy, cynical twirl. He usually wore a jaded black t-shirt and I hardly remembered seeing him clean shaven. Though I had found his looks rather interesting, I had never given him a serious thought as such. Not just him. I had never given any serious consideration to any boy in class. My entire focus had been directed towards cracking the medical entrance.

I continued to read the letter. “One of my close friends has joined AMC medical college and happened to mention you were in the same college with him. I was happy to learn about your whereabouts. So I thought I will drop a note to you and check out how you are doing.

I had been surprised at receiving a letter from him at that time. People who you have hardly even spoken to do not shoot letters to you just like that out of the blue. My feminine intuition hinted at it being more than just a casual greeting. But then I had found his interest in me rather flattering. What vain creatures we women are, eh? And I had been kind of curious what he would say next. So I had decided to humour him.

I picked through some of the other letters at random. Some of them had me laughing like crazy. I can’t imagine how he always manages to find humor in every situation. I don’t know how I would have tided through the first year at college without these letters so full of life and fun. I had been so lonely, homesick and depressed those days.

Then there was this letter he had written to me when my family was undergoing financial crisis. I read through his sensitive words. They were so consoling. I still remember those days vividly. He had not just stopped with words. He had actually lent me the money his parents had given him for his college fees to pay mine. If I had not returned his money on time, he might have been rusticated. How much he cares for me! He had also gone one step ahead and enlisted the help of his uncle to solve my father’s tax problems. My father never found out the reason for his benefactor’s benevolence though.

I sadly wrapped up the packet and put it back in the cupboard. I hope eventually things turn out well. I am already missing him so much. A week without a letter from him and life has begun to feel so empty!

Beginning of the Series : Four Letters and a Phone Call - I
Previous Part               : Four Letters and a Phone Call - II
Next Part                     : Four Letters and a Phone Call - IV

Four Letters and a Phone Call - II

It has been three days since I wrote to her. I had finally picked up courage and proposed to her. But she has still not responded. This suspense is just killing me! Why can’t she just make haste and reply either way? Why is she keeping me hanging on the edge like this?

Ah! Finally! I see the postman coming in the distance. I have always found the Bollywood songs about waiting eagerly for the letter from one’s beloved cheesy. Now I realize they are not. How my heart flutters at the very sight of the postman!

He does have a letter for me. But it is not from my dear Sarah! It is from some Rachel! Who the hell is Rachel? And what does she want with me?

I am so frustrated that this letter is not from Sarah that I just want to tear it up without reading. But then better sense prevails and I open it and begin to read.

It reads, “You may not know me and would be surprised to receive this letter from me. I am Sarah’s best friend Rachel and I know everything about you. We have been close friends since childhood and she confides everything in me.

I wonder what is this ‘everything’ she knows about me. Somehow the letter is already putting me off. I read on, “She seems to hold you in very high regard. She often speaks of you in glowing terms.

High regard indeed! My foot! What was she getting at anyway?

I wanted to discuss something important with you. I felt such a good person like you should benefit from the grace of the one true God. So I wanted to share the message of Christ with you.

From there on, the letter prattles on a lot of Christian missionary stuff. I finally do what I should have done as soon as I received the letter. I tear it up and throw it into the dustbin.

I am by now sure Sarah must have received my letter and this must have been her way of responding. And what a shabby way to respond indeed! Not directly saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but asking a friend to send a letter suggesting conversion. How pathetic!

But then come to think of it, this letter does mean that she was considering my proposal seriously. Why else would my proposal be followed by a suggestion to convert? I guess she wants to respond to me based on how I react to the idea of conversion. So all I have to do is to respond to that overbearing friend of hers expressing interest in receiving the message of Christ or whatever, I guess. Then, presto! I will have a positive response from Sarah! Very easy isn't it?

I don’t know. Maybe I am being too harsh to her. What is so inherently wrong in the suggestion? Religion is after all matter of convenience. Not like I am very passionate about religion or anything, eh? It would probably help remove the obstacle of objections from her parents on the basis of religious difference. But then what about my parents? Especially my mother! She is so deeply religious. She prays morning and evening without fail and does not miss even one of those fasts. How would she feel if I told her I am going to convert to Christianity? It would be like plunging a dagger into her heart.

But mother has always understood my feelings. Maybe this time also she will and will also convince my father like she always does. Should I write back to Rachel and accept her proposal? No! I can’t! I find the whole idea so damn repulsive! It seems like an abject surrender of a desperate lover. It hurts my male ego. I can imagine how my friends would laugh at me behind my back if they come to know of this. But is my pride more important than love? Frankly I do not know. However I can’t help feeling it was sly of her to get that friend of hers to write to me instead of talking to me directly. I just do not appreciate the idea of bringing third parties between us. The right thing would have been to talk to each other directly heart to heart. Anyways what has happened has happened. I now need to sit down and think clearly what to do next.

Four Letters and a Phone Call - I

This was the happiest moment of my life. I kept smiling to myself and hugging the letter. I cannot say for how long I had been waiting for this letter. It was indeed a dream come true for me. It was not a very long letter. All it said was, “I have wanted to write this for a long time. But I could not muster enough courage. Today finally I open my heart to you. You are the love of my life. You are now the very purpose of my existence. I just cannot imagine life without you. I want to embed you as the jewel in the hollow of my existence for eternity. Will you marry me?

This was the shortest letter I had received from him. The usual sweet nothing letters would have been much easier to write. But for this kind of letter he would have had to pour out his deepest feelings on to paper. It must have definitely been tough. But I was so happy he had finally done it. I grabbed a pen and began to write to him, “I have been eagerly waiting to receive this letter from you. I am so glad that you wrote this. I cannot match your eloquence in expressing my love for you. But it is my lack of skill with words that is to blame and not the lack of feeling.

Suddenly I stopped midway. I would finish the letter and send it out to him. We would then officially be a couple. But then what next? Was love alone enough for marriage? Marriage is not a private thing between just the two of us like these letters. Doubts began to creep into my mind. What will my father say? My father’s image sprang up in front of me. He was looking at me with his loving eyes. I could not meet them. Would he be angry with me? Would he be disappointed? He has such high hopes from me. All our relatives had dissuaded him from sending me away to hostel for my medical course. They had wanted him to put me in a normal degree course at the local college. But he had stood against them like a rock. “I want to see my little girl as a great doctor who will save hundreds of lives. I have full faith in her. Not only will I send her to hostel for the MBBS, but also abroad for MD if she so desires. She is my daughter. I know she will excel in her studies and make us all proud.

His declaration had had finality in them. None of the friends or relatives could shake his faith in me. Have I now let him down? Have I proven everyone else right and him wrong? What have I gone and done? But then what could have I done? Not like I did anything purposely. It just happened. Dad will understand. After all his marriage with mom was also a love marriage. He would definitely know that we have no control over matters of the heart.

But then even if he agrees, there is this other issue. Phani is not a Christian. Though dad and mom had a love marriage, not only were they both Christians, they also belonged to the same denomination. Dad is too devoted a Christian. He would not even have imagined me marrying anyone but a Christian even in his wildest dreams. So what do I do? Even if my dad were to agree, what will society say? He is already considered something of a rebel for letting me pursue higher studies staying at a hostel. If I were to have a love marriage to a boy of a different religion, that’s it! Our family would become total outcastes! Is this how I repay my family for all that they have done for me?

Does that mean I should turn down Phani’s love? But I could not even bear the thought of that! How could I do such a thing? He loved me so much! I remembered how he had cut corners to save up to get me a gift for my birthday. I remembered how when my father was having financial troubles, he had left all his work and followed up with his uncle at the income tax department to get my father’s troubles resolved. I remembered each and every one of his letters written with so much care to cheer me up when I was down. He was doing one thing or the other for me all the time. This was the first time he was asking something of me. And I refuse? How heartless!

I just do not know what to do. Then suddenly an idea struck me! Rachel! She can help me. She is always sensible and well grounded. And what more, she is my closest friend. She has known me since childhood. She can give me the best possible advice. Let me call her up and talk to her.

Next Part: Four Letters and a Phone Call - II

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces