Tarun Mehrishi’s ‘The Portrait of a Secret’ carries the secret to the very end : The Tribune India

Tarun Mehrishi’s ‘The Portrait of a Secret’ carries the secret to the very end

Tarun Mehrishi’s ‘The Portrait of a Secret’ carries the secret to the very end

The Portrait of a Secret by Tarun Mehrishi. Penguin Random House. Pages 284. Rs 299

Book Title: The Portrait of a Secret

Author: Tarun Mehrishi

Chandni S Chandel

HAD the name of the book been ‘The Secret of a Portrait’, it would have passed off as an ordinary work of fiction, but the title ‘The Portrait of a Secret’ is a glimpse into the writer’s extraordinary craft with words.

As a debutant writer, Tarun Mehrishi deserves applause for the layered yet clear piece of writing. He has successfully juxtaposed the plots with the sub-plots, and managed to keep untangled the story spanning a century — beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and ending with the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The book keeps you gripped with real events interspersed with fictional situations and characters. Minus this, it would have been nothing more than an academic journal of contemporary Indian history. The main plot revolves around two paintings by Russian painter Nicholas Roerich getting stolen from Kappar, a fictitious name for Naggar in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, home to the late artist. The paintings are up for auction at London’s famous auction house, Sotheby’s, at an estimated price range of 20 to 100 million pounds each.

A sub-plot of the story is that of the Indian intelligence agency getting wind of a terror strike by Pakistan’s ISI with the funding traced to the proceeds of these two paintings. Another sub-plot simultaneously comes into play as one finds that the paintings hold the key to the biggest-ever secret related to the accession of Kashmir to India. In between, there are myriad incidents with different timelines and time zones, from Washington and London to New Delhi and Himachal. The book also gives a sneak peek into how intelligence agencies, spies and terror operatives try to hoodwink each other.

In order to write a spy-thriller woven around historical facts, one has to have a lot of factual information. The author seems to have studied the bureaucracy, auctions at Sotheby’s, Indian cinema, Russian painter Roerich, and how intelligence agencies work. For a person who has worked in the corporate world, writing such a hair-raising thriller is commendable.