Return of naivete
Reviewed by Suresh Kohli

The Sea of Innocence
by Kishwar Desai Simon & Schuster India. 
Pages 358. Rs 350

And look what this Indian government has done to Goa. It used to be so beautiful. Turned into a shithole. You know, man when we came here it was so clean and beautiful. The sky was blue, the sea was blue and the beaches were white. Now the sea is grey, the sky is grey and the beach is grey. Man, sometimes you can’t even see the fucking beach, it is so covered with plastic. And people.’

Into this vortex is thrown a moral cop, Simran Singh, ostensibly a single, social worker with a fleet of lovers in the past (and finds one more, Dennis – a Bollywood scriptwriter — to comfort her tired limbs while investigating the beaches. These are the beaches where "every week there had been at least one death of a foreigner" in the "rape capital of the world" by none other than a senior cop, Amarjit – another ex – from New Delhi. The kingpin of crime is a powerful minister, Vinay Gupta whose henchmen not only control the waters, drugs, blackmail, and who himself fancies deflowering teenage ‘vestal virgins’.

The narrative, indeed, begins on a very promising note. Multiple stories jostled together to make a wholesome experience, before petering out to ruin the azure waters of the Arabian sea. That is where it ends itself as the author begins to repeat herself. Because it is structurally defective, the entire edifice on which the narrative is built is naïve and flawed.

Not a single character is clearly defined. Even before he or she is introduced the reader knows in which direction, or to what end the movement would be. The investigator somehow escapes being sexually violated, while every other woman has undergone the ordeal.

The investigations begin with the disappearance of a 15-year-old British girl Liza Kay (with a henna tattoo of broken hearts in a daisy chain just above the pubic area), video clips about her rape begin to simmer on Simran’s mobile phone. Characters in the book are Liza Kay, and her sister Marian, their father Stanley, Vinay Gupta, Curtis D'Silva, the crooner, Robert Gonsalves, the Superintendent of Police and Veeramma, the beach gypsy. Others in the narrative are Simran’s adopted daughter, Durga and her friends, Vicky, the girl from Chandigarh who works at the casino, Vira Jennings, another victim, Raman and Joseph, the bouncers, Vishnu, the cyber freak and Liza’s real suffering lover (references to the 2008 infamous Scarlett Keeling case, or the recent gruesome gang rape in Delhi in December last, which is cause of provocation for the present narrative).

Lady Desai acknowledges debt to 19 individuals who have, directly or indirectly, helped in the writing that sees countless characters appear and disappear at will or sudden recall. Not once in the entire narrative, except at the very end, does Simran Singh seek help because "problems always began to multiply when you entered a police station."

Introspection, restraint and sharper editing could have made the novel a nail-biting thriller. It had all the ingredients: a series of video clips on her cell from an unknown source, drug peddling (once a "place for drug consumption. Now it’s become a big transit hub for sending drugs to other places as well."), molestations, rapes and lethal attacks on unsuspecting women. Also avoidable were pontifications of perversity and female sexuality and other self-indulgent observations appear as frequently as news of teenage rapes in newspapers and on television. The narrative does succeed, unintentionally though, in providing a brief history of the state itself. The narrative often brings in wisecracks as well. For instance, "When one is staring into an abyss there is nothing like alcohol to help you jump over it. Or into it."

That’s precisely what the reviewer persistently did for a whole week.