Sunday, September 09, 2012

When the Snow Melts - Vinod Joseph


The first time Vinod mentioned When the Snow Melts I missed one crucial piece of detail, it is a spy novel. There is no likely explanation for how one could miss something that is so clearly stated. The next time I heard of it the book was out and he asked me if I wanted to read it. Of course. The black and red cover, the target marked, the back flap announcing, A spook!, His lady-love!, The al Qaeda! My first reaction was, Oh My God, a spy novel! Vinod’s first novel, The Hitchhiker, is a thoughtful meditation and at times an uneasy probing at the Indian Reservation system - the caste based affirmative action programme subject to much use and misuse. Therefore it was considerably surprising to note that his second published novel is a thriller.

Further peering indicated that India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, London all featured in the book. Central to the narrative is the Intelligence Assessment Group (IAG), an international conflation of intelligence agents from all over the world with the aim of tackling global terrorism. Ritwik Kumar, a very experienced Indian spy, part of the IAG, defects to the Pakistan intelligence wing ostensibly to save himself from his deeply entrenched financial and alcoholic messes which have landed him in an extremely tight corner in the IAG. But things are hardly what they seem and Pakistani intelligence suspects him of being a double agent. Multiple torture episodes and mind dramas ensue. Meanwhile Ritwik also falls in love with a Pakistani woman Nilofer, the wife of one of his torturers. With all the ingredients to thrill in place, Vinod juggles the pieces around and moves the action forward to an entertaining climax and finish.

Ritwik is very self deprecating in this first person narrative. Given that he is a spy he also conceals and confuses. At any point Ritwik manages to sound as if he is saying the most obvious thing and also, therefore, as if he is probably lying.

When the Snow Melts as a title is the timekeeper and the frequent reference to the status of the snow marks Ritwik’s operation defection. I found the love interest sections hilarious. It was as if Vinod was laughing to and at himself while he were writing those parts.

I liked the book and would recommend reading it in one sitting.