Nine times the magic
Reviewed by Vikrant Parmar

by Shobha Nihalani
Pages 378, Rs 250

hong Kong, Gaya, Calcutta, London, Amsterdam, Minneapolis, Dharamsala, New York, Cambodia…no, this is not a lesson in regional geography but the epicentres of Shobha Nihalani's 'Nine' - a history-inspired, mythology-nurtured, magic-imbued, conspiracy-laden, modernism-fed pot-boiler that weaves a million threads into a coherent whole.

While on one hand there are bloody skirmishes, planned abductions, memory-erasing chemicals and serum antidotes, on the other there is black magic; spirits rise, demons appear, ghosts haunt and apparitions scare. Amid all this the narrative moves ahead with rapid velocity, save the times where action wanes into a few pages of monotony before picking up again.

Nurse Tara, DJ Akash and 'death investigator' Zubin form the trinity of modern-day saviours who are among the reincarnations of King Ashoka's Council of Nine - the repositories of ancient wisdom. The knowledge, in the author's universe, has travelled down millennia through 'chosen' humans, who guard it with all their heart, soul and energy. Their purpose is sacred, so is the aura surrounding some members of the Council of Nine - part of King Ashoka's secret society.

Opposition comes in the form of Vayu, a demon re-incarnate, 'deceptively small-built, with wide shoulders and stout arms'; a Kalingan warrior who is out to revenge the wrong done by King Ashoka. Vayu forms an integral part of the Kala Yogis, an organistaion baying for the blood of the 'nine' in every age and era.

Having taken a cue from the historical Kalinga War held in 261 BC, where Mauryan emperor Ashoka annihilated his opponents only to later give up violence forever, Nihalani has injected a rich dose of fiction and woven a tale to suit modern sensibilities. So if there are magical powers that make the characters superhuman, there are emotions that make them human; if there are healing and levitation abilities, there are frailties that land them up in situations. Normal gets subsumed into paranormal with effortless ease in Nihalani's hand.

The author is widely travelled and that is apparent in her choice of locales; the swift movement has to be viewed in the light of her grandiose plot, characters and purpose. The narrative confuses and amazes at the same time, but the message that is conveyed right through the text is universal - evil thrives, good overcomes.

The number nine is astrologically intriguing; Nihalani only makes it more so through her fertile imagination and vivid narration.

The writer makes number nine astrologically intriguing through a vivid narration and imaginative rendering