I attended the Delhi launch of The Mine yesterday and had a good time. Arnab (a.k.a Greatbong) read Jaal's back-story from the book and ended the reading with the disconcerting revelation that every incident mentioned in the section (which described a riot situation) was true and had happened in India. During the reading, my wife was quite amused because of the rather colourful language that Arnab read out in the presence of his in-laws!
After the reading, Arnab and Jai Arjun Singh discussed the lack of too many horror novels in India (probably because horror - made popular by Bollywood - in India isn't supposed to scary but quasi-funny), Arnab's influences (Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe and even Mukesh Bhatt) and the cinematic quality of the book.
I finished the book in one breathless burst and had tweeted my first reaction - "A mind-slashing thriller that grabs your balls and doesn't let go. Even after you finish it." And a few days on, that remains exactly my reaction.
The plot is about five shady characters being brought to a hi-tech mining facility ostensibly for expert advice and confronting their past in unimaginably gory ways. The book is written almost like a screenplay and instead of chapters, there are shorter 'scenes'. There are impressive 'dialogues' in true Bollywood style. The blurb ("The greatest evil lies deep inside.") is one such line. Another favourite of mine went something like this - "Necessity is the mother of invention. Cruelty is the father." The screenwriter's work is almost done here as the action moves breathtakingly fast and almost every 'scene' ends with a line conveying a deep sense of foreboding.
Arnab opens up different strands of stories - sometimes innocuously - that get resolved so smartly that sometimes you have to go back to the earlier pages to confirm the sly detail he had slipped in. And the ones that he keeps unresolved are more of open strands, open to different kinds of interpretation rather than being merely loose ends.
I also enjoyed how Arnab slipped in several references to popular culture and our growing-up years, which stood for something of a relief in the relentless bloodiness of the Mine.
A doctor named Anaida. Caligula, in the context of mass bestiality. Randeep Kalra, a film star who stood accused of rape by his maid. The concept of losing a talisman bringing about misfortune, made famous by the billa number 786 of Deewaar. The concept of ancient punishments being given a modern, wicked twist - made famous by South Indian director Shankar.
Two acknowledged influences on the book are Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None as well as Mahabharat. One story is about a group of ten being meted out justice for their past sins. In the latter, the Mahaprasthan scene is all about the five brothers and their wife meeting their ends in a quest to go from darkness to light.
The real horror of the story is - quite devastatingly - taken from our daily lives. Our day-to-day fears, paranoia, insecurities are exaggerated manifold to create a yarn that keeps coming back to you. Taking the visceral emotions of blood relationships (a father-daughter one, for example), Arnab twists them into a macabre tale and forces you to ask "what would I do in a situation like this?"
And the horror is that the truth is not the answer you would like to hear.
After I read the book, I had a reaction similar to the one demonstrated by Mr Krishnan Iyer MA in Agneepath (1990). Taking Vijay Chavan's son, he went around proudly proclaiming "mere family ka bachcha...". Coming from an earlier batch of Arnab's college, I also wanted to prance around saying the same.
The bestselling novelist from Jadavpur University took a while to come but completely steamrolled the output from the IITs, now that it had! By the way, we of the Jadu bansha are no pushovers. Kunal Basu is also from our college, in fact from my department!