The first time I heard about Anuja Chauhan was in my favourite bookstore, sipping on coffee, when my friends and I were talking about books we’d read and loved. It was 2013, and she’d just read The Zoya Factor, and I was a literary snob (aka a dumbshit who needed a whacking from the present me). Since then, I’ve spent a year studying Indian Writing in English, and now I read anything that’s not Chetan Bhagat (I still have some taste). This year, blessed with a New Kindle, and the glory that comes with it, I read, for the very first time that book that intrigued me all those years ago with my favourite people at my favourite place. To be honest, I was quite disappointed. It was quite shitty, according to me.
Cut to five months later, I heard she’s coming out with a new book. I really didn’t want to read it, but I thought if people don’t shit on her as much as they do on Chetan Bhagat, she must have done something right (sorry, it’s been a long time since I’ve read Chetan Bhagat, maybe I forgot how bad he is- I probably shouldn’t compare). So I read Baaz. And it was the opposite of what I thought it would be.
Baaz is the story of an Air Force Pilot- the very best one in his batch. Ishaan is Baaz, for his eagle-like flying abilities, but also because he’s a bastard. His step father is a zamindar who hates his guts. His maternal grandfather sowed the dream of being an IAF pilot in young Ishaan, who as young impressionable boys wont to do, internalised this dream without questioning it. The fact that he was a naughty (stupid) little boy who did reckless things for adrenaline rush probably helped. Point is, he enrolled himself in the Flying College, got through it effortlessly, and inculcated the values and ideologies of Defense personell. This is not just a plot point, but also the major conflict in what is, primarily a romance.
In stark contrast, Tinka, born and raised in the US (the reason why this is important gets clearer later in the narrative), influenced by John Lennon’s Imagine, is completely anti-war and anti-violence. She’s a Parsi, a photographer, and she unapologetically stands up for what she believes in. Her father is an ex-Army personell, and much of her family is in the Defence Forces, including her brother who dies, and is taught about in the Defence Academies. (Spoiler Alert: The truth of his death made me close the book and shed a quite tear). Her father cuts her off because she runs away to Bombay, instead of getting married. She becomes the model in the very first Indian advertisement featuring a bikini. She does it for the money to continue photography. But, of course, she gets slut-shamed for it.
This is as much the story of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 as much as it is of Ishaan (Shanu) and Tinka. A direct nod to the Military, and a simultaneousfuck youto the very concept of war. Multiple times in the text, Chauhan (mock?) praises the bravery of the Military, while juxtaposing the individual in battle who ultimately suffers. Ishaan and his friends gets lost. One of them loses a limb. Jimmy, Yinka’s brother, kills six Pakistanis after his tank becomes useless. He kills them with his bare hands. He becomes the hero of the nation. Then he shoots himself in the head. Many we know througout the novel die. Chauhan, through Tinka asks what’s the point? She talks about the kind of people who enter this workforce – the poor, looking for a Middle class alleviation. The army brats who are forced. The army brats who probably don’t know better. She questions the rationale of war.
“Tinka- I shot him down, I cut down his body and yanked the clothes off his charred corpse. I do not want to look at pictures of his daughters.”
“Why the hell should I feel guilty, anyway? Sure, I chewed up Bilawal Hussain – the others ejected, I saw their chutes, so I know it was just the one guy. But what about Raka? They shot him up so badly, he’d be better off dead, the poor chap.”
She raises her chin, her face mutinous.
“Raka will get better,” she says firmly. “Also, that’s bullshit logic, and you know it.”
Throughout my reading of the entire book, a single quote ran through my mind.
The world is run by one million evil men, ten million stupid men, and a hundred million cowards… The evil men are the power–the rich men, and the politicians, and the fanatics of religion–whose decisions rule the world, and set it on its course of greed and destruction.
There are only one million of them, the truly evil men, in the whole world. The very rich and the very powerful, whose decisions really count–they only number one million. The stupid men, who number ten million, are the soldiers and policemen who enforce the rule of the evil men. They are the standing armies of twelve key countries, and the police forces of those and twenty more. In total, there are only ten million of them with any real power or consequence. They are often brave, I’m sure, but they are stupid, too, because they give their lives for governments and causes that use their flesh and blood as mere chess pieces. Those governments always betray them or let them down or abandon them, in the long run. Nations neglect no men more shamefully than the heroes of their wars.
What I personally enjoyed about the book was some of those terrible puns (Kuch Bhi Carvahlo, for example). She literally made me laugh out loud at a couple of points in the book. (I’m surprised nobody ever called Ishaan Baaz Turd, though. But then again, my terrible puns are the worst kinds of terrible puns). I also loved how much time she spent describing Ishaan (delish, that boy). Physically and his cockyness. (Right up my alley, if he weren’t in the military). I’ve never gotten to read physical descriptions of guys in this much detail, while the girl’s physique was thoroughly deemphasized. (Of course she wears a bikini and guys go crazy, but we don’t know what colour her eyes are, or what she’s wearing at the moment, which almost never happens). I like how Ishaan gets confused about basic (to me) English words.
I’m not calling this the best book I’ve read this year. I’m not calling it flawless, or a literary masterpiece either. But it was a definite cheap thrill. Anuja Chauhan has definitely grown as an author, in my opinion (should I be saying shit like this? Idk. But we’ve established I’m a snob). This is much, much better than The Zoya Factor. It’s got me piqued enough to consider reading more of her. It does have a certain je ne sais quoi.
TLDR – Definitely better than ‘turd’. If you want to read something worthwhile for fun, read it. If you want a literary masterpiece, don’t. If you like The Zoya Factor, you’ll like this too.
- Release Date: May 1, 2017
- Page Count: 432
- My Rating: 6.5/10 (I cried and laughed).
- Average Goodreads Rating: 3.77/5