Author: Manna Bahadur
Genre: Fiction/ Crime Thriller
Price: Rs 295
“Every life is journey, and you cannot reach the end until you have touched and experienced all the stations on the way.”
The crumbling red bricks still stood proud, defiant against the vagaries of war and weather. The wear and tear of centuries had not been able to diminish the distinguished aura of the Nalanda University. Its majestic remains carried an unparalleled serenity around itself from time immemorial.
As dusk slowly crept in, the setting sun paid obeisance to the ruins, bathing its vast expanse in a gentle golden glow.
Chandni had completed taking pictures of the ruins for her story on ‘The Pride of Bihar – Nalanda University’ for a local newspaper. She walked towards a tea stall on a narrow path lined with trees on one side and eating joints on the other. Suddenly, she heard a loud explosion.
Nalanda, in its prime, was one of the most revered seats of learning for Buddhist scholars. Even now, the university has a sense of enigma and reverence around it. It is this mysterious pull that author Manna Bahadur had based the idea of her second novel on. Its protagonist happens to be a journalist in search of ‘Breaking News,’ – so this fast-paced thriller has been woven around an inferno that blazed in the Nalanda University inferno and its annihilation by a Turkish invader.
The storyline revolves around the historic and traditional Nalanda University and its subsequent ransacking and destruction. Running in an intersection with this narrative is the story of two girls – Devahuti and Chandni – belonging to two completely different eras and yet connected through time because of their experiences, betrayals, loyalties, confidence as well as similarities in nature. The narrative is an interplay of events, past and present.
Chandni is a modern-day Journalist who is confident and a doer. Chandni being a reporter has to cover the story about Nalanda University and when she reaches there for her professional assignment, the ruins of the Nalanda University start appearing to her and she loses to her subconscious mind and that’s when she makes an attempt to comprehend it. Devahuti is a young child widow, deprived of love and belonging as well as her own desires – but the fearless girl is intellectually much ahead of her time. The similarity in the series of events in different eras connects Chandni and Devahuti and thus the curse that started with Devahuti comes to an end with Chandni – making the story more compelling.
Manna Bahadur digs into the backyard of her childhood, reaching into the past, veering back and forth, to spin a yarn shuttling between two timelines. In one, the bold and spritely child-widow Devahuti contends with the acts of a rampaging Bakhtiyar Khilji. In the other, TV journalist Chandni finds herself embroiled in mysteries beyond breaking news. Maintaining the pace of narration, The Curse of Nalanda leads the reader to find answers as to how Devahuti and Chandni are intertwined and the book – that is at once imagined history and contemporary reportage – turns out to be an edge-of-the-seat thriller. The intrigue and drama in the narrative make ‘The Curse of Nalanda’ seem like a lucidly written plot of a film.
Raising some parallels strikingly close to the present day scenario, the book also highlights how in the current times, one can, because of the charm of fast paced growth ignore advice and counsel. The story does seem a bit predictable in places, but perhaps that has to do with the fact that the characters set in modern times are from amongst us. We will all have a friend in television – or at least read about media so much. The best bit about the book is the writing. It is very easy to fall into the trap of being verbose even when it is just not necessary. Manna Bahadur writes in a language that we all speak in – and therefore the book is an easy read. Despite that, relevant details that explain characters and their situations and circumstances are conveyed easily. For lovers of historic fiction, the book is an engaging and riveting read.
By- Aarti Kapur Singh