I’ve been fortunate enough to be nestled into the world of Bangla Literature in my formative years. I had begun reading magazines and novels for children even before I turned ten. The joy of holding a freshly printed periodical magazine at least once a month and glancing through the pages to skim the content before rushing off to school was incomparable. Calcutta has carried a rich tradition of interesting magazines for children, young adults as well as adults. The ones, especially for pre-teens were a huge treasure of informative articles, short stories, poems, comics and sports. Anandamela, Shuktara, Kishore Bharati, Kishore Gyan Bigyan, Sandesh – there were so many to choose from each fortnight! The most popular among these, Anandamela was from the ABP house of publications – it was bourgeoisie, glamorous, rich in content and had great print quality priced at Rs 10 for each issue.
The annual pujabarshiki Anandamela 1996 and the Kikira novel published in it (on right)
The fortnightly and annual Pujabarshiki issues of Anandamela introduced me to Kikira The Great by Bimal Kar. No, he isn’t Japanese and is almost not a detective. KiKiRa stands for Kinkar Kishore Ray, a brilliantly crafted pseudo-acronym to enhance his identity. He is a self-proclaimed magician who had a target of at least a hundred magic shows in his lifetime but was stopped short at only thirty six of them due to an illness. A sudden bout of disease disabled one of his hands and made it impossible for him to perform on stage again. He called himself ‘Kikira The Magician’, ‘Kikira The Wonder,’ ‘Kikira the Great,’ and still had a few tricks up his sleeve that effervesce in all of his cases. Kikira has two assistants, a young clerical fellow named Tarapada and a doctor of medicine, Chandan. The evolution of this apparently lopsided friendship between the three occurred during a case for the first time. The first story in the Kikira series – Kapalik-ra Ekhono Achhe (Tantrics Still Do Exist) – began with Tarapada and Chandan as the main protagonists, Kikira only making an entry later with a burly introduction! I think the author wanted to experiment, improvise and give a trial with the readers to see if they accept such an offbeat character.
At 03:02 on a Sunday morning, the world as we knew it came to an end. Mumbai suddenly went black — no electricity, no phones, no internet and no working cars. It was as if someone had turned off the master switch of our civilization, turning us back hundreds of years overnight. We learned that it was not just Mumbai, but much of the world that had been impacted. We also learned that it was no accident. A deadly enemy was behind it. An enemy that was now in our midst, seeking to conquer us and destroy our way of life. This is how our war for freedom began. A war that was to be waged not on the borders or by the Army, but in our homes and streets, with us as the soldiers. This is our story. ’03:02 celebrates fictional heroes who fight for our freedom, but to give back to the real heroes who do so every day, for every copy sold, a contribution from author royalties will be made to the National Defence Fund, which takes voluntary contributions to help armed forces service members and their families.’
Mainak Dhar’s previous book Chronicler of the Undead is the only dystopian novel I had read in a long time. His latest offering 03:02 seemed a tad different, moving to the thriller and mystery genre. That was reason enough to pick it up for review as I’ve been a fan of Mainak’s writing. It’s always perspicuous and pleasing to read. From what I’ve read by him so far, I surely can’t complain about the form of writing. It might be the content that varies from each book to the other and creates a difference in quality.
03:02 is an interesting take on a thriller, blended with mystery and most importantly, terrorism. The protagonist, Aditya, is on the verge of turning into a corporate robot and deserves the promotion he receives. There’s a party in the evening and he crashes onto his bed later that night. Something happens at 03:02 in the morning and there’s a blackout. Aditya is oblivious of the situation and wakes up to realise something serious has happened. He goes out, scrutinises his neighbourhood and learns that nothing is working – phone, car, electricity – all dead. His neighbours are as baffled as he is. The scenario unfolds gradually, the horrors are peeled off in layers and people face the stark reality of living a life without modern facilities. Aditya takes control of the situation for the lack of a leader and starts restoring life.