Author: Arnab Ray
Publisher: Tranquebar Press
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In the world of food, the biryani is considered to be the king of all rice dishes. It takes immense mastery over the culinary arts to come up with a plateful of the perfect biryani,considered the true test of a master chef. The khichdi, on the other hand, is its poor cousin. Rustled up in a jiffy, the main purpose of the khichdi is to appease and not to entice. The signature dish at a bachelor pad or a newlywed’s flat, the khichdi satisfies any pangs of hunger as soon as possible. It does not try to masquerade as a gourmet dish and yet, I know people who swear by their designated “comfort food”.
Arnab Ray’s The Mine is a steaming pot of khichdi with a few chunky pieces of meat thrown in. It makes no pretensions of being an epic on the lines of Midnight’s Children or The Hungry Tide. Rather it eschews all traditions followed by recent popular Indian English fiction to come up with something delightfully different yet satisfying.
In the heart of Rajasthan’s barren Thar Desert, a shrine with disturbing imagery is unearthed by a super-rich mining company which sets off a chain of accidents. A crack team of the best experts in the country is assembled to identify and solve the problem. Little do they know what is in store in the form of deadly traps, nerve gas and, worst, their own guilty consciences. Tutankhamun’s curse, anybody?
From his trademark sense of sarcastic humour, Ray comes full circle with his new brand of sardonic horror. His first book May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss was an extension of his popular blog Greatbong where he showcased his unique take on the goings-on of India at large. The Mine charts an entirely new route as it combines elements of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers with James Wan’s Saw series. Ray uses references galore to combine facts and fiction seamlessly – from Memento and Se7en to Shiney Ahuja and the numerous date rape cases doing the rounds of courts in the country.
The dark humour in Ray’s previous works is replaced by a darker sense of cynicism and evil. There is no white or grey in this literary piece – what you get is a pitch black display of extreme nihilism and absolute contempt for any higher forces that might exist. The faint-hearted would cringe at the use of gore – a rarity in Indian fiction – although readers of Japanese horror fiction would find it nothing more than mild.
Of course there are loopholes. The supernatural element (or its absence) is left unexplained at the end of the story and the reader might have to try some inspired guesswork. A lot of strings are left untied even when we reach the climax. The climax itself wavers from brilliant to an absolute let-down – one only wishes that the author had ended the story a couple of pages before he actually did. The sex is, at best, gratuitous and serves the purpose of titillation, rather than to help to carry the story forward.
Despite all these shortcomings, The Mine is a mighty fine book because it challenges the status quo. There is not even an iota of political correctness, which is how it should be. It takes a lot of guts and gumption to create a story out of five antagonists and no protagonist and Ray deserves a pat on the back for doing so. However, now that he has ticked “psychological horror” off his bucket list, can we get back to our funny bones being tickled?