Anuja Chauhan’s latest book Baaz is set in the Pak Bangladesh war. There is a love story also there in midst of all the action but both the tracks are so well interwoven that it’s difficult to say which is set in the background of the other.
Baaz is the bastardized name of Ishaan, the protagonist who is a fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force (IAF). He’s not your typical tall, lanky haryanvi jat but is actually a diminutive little cocky dynamite who is always highly energetic with a no holds barred attitude and has a patriotic fervour always in his mind and action. He falls for Tinka, a fiercely independent girl who, among other things hates war and is mainly a pacifist.
The book opens up with Ishaan’s childhood and the influence that his grandfather has had in his life. In a few well written sequences early on the author does a great job in establishing the character of Ishaan and his bonding with the immediate family members. Without going OTT, his motivation for joining the IAF is convincingly put out and it’s to the credit to the author that she stays true to the initial characterization of Ishaan throughout the novel, right up till the end.
Ishaan and Tinka’s love story kicks off (literally) with an initial meeting when both are greenhorns and have an anti establishment attitude as a common factor. Establishment here being their respective fathers. They again meet up after a period of time and because of their head strong attitude and different approaches to life, the hot cold relationship dance starts up. The crux of the book is devoted to this dance between the war lover and the pacifist. During all this a bit of referencing is made to the topical issue of patriotism versus jingoism, but the book shies from taking a clear stand on it.
In the course of being a rebel and fiercely independent woman in the India of the late 60’s Tinka has a lot of jumping of jobs to go through. During various stages she is a reporter, a model, a volunteer, an human rights activist all rolled into one. While it seems outlandish when I put it this way, her character is quite convincingly written to make you feel all this is plausible.
The story also captures the bonhomie between three best friends Baaz, Maddy and Raka. As Tinka disdainfully notes later on, everybody in the IAF is given a nickname to make them sound cooler than what they are and to get them into the spirit of togetherness and teamwork. But this attitude comes as a relief later on when one of the characters is seriously injured, the emphasis on the nickname helps to alleviate the grief of the near and dear ones and makes them more practical about the consequences.
This being predominantly a story set during the Pak Bangladesh war, there are a lot of aerial exchange of fire involving Gnats, MiGs and Sabres. I was very impressed with the way the various aerial dogfights have been depicted. Anuja Chauhan seems to be in her peak element when describing the sorties and does a great job on putting the thrill on paper. She also did a commendable job in explaining the strengths of each aircraft which helps a lot for uninformed people like me. And all this is done without losing focus from the story and the various elements involved in it.
The book falters a bit towards the end when the turn of various events seem to be a tad forced to give one sort of an ending. While I did anticipate the ending, the events leading up to the main point left me unconvinced. However, it’s not a big blemish and the various highs of the story glosses over this miss-step.
With good sprinkling of humor throughout the book, Baaz is a pretty enjoyable fare, both as a war book as well as a love story.
PS: One side effect- the song Mere Sapno Ki Rani won’t be same after reading this :p