Monday, October 10, 2016

Quest for Kriya by Rahul Deokar

Cover image - Quest for Kriya (Goodreads)
Haunted by tragic loss in the 1993 India earthquake, a broken Shakti with a tenuous hold on life is sheltered by her soul-sister Kriya. But when Kriya vanishes without a trace, Shakti is unwittingly swept into a cataclysmic vortex of greed, lust and betrayal. Shakti meets Shiva, a struggling Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and discovers that love is an enigmatic cosmic force.

Shakti and Shiva are thrust on a frantic race against time through the dark Mumbai underbelly, forbidden Thailand islands, and treacherous cliffs in the Andaman Sea, where danger lurks in every shadow. As they get closer to the truth, they realize that millions of innocent lives are at stake.

Quest for Kriya is an epic saga of love, friendship and sacrifice. The journey is incredible. The emotions are real. The transformation is eternal.

I was drawn to The Quest for Kriya by the names of some of the protagonists—Shiva, Shakti, and so on. I had imagined that it would explore deep issues, and make interesting mythological or religious connections. The preview passage that you get to see on Amazon and elsewhere tends to support this idea. The opening chapter, set around one person's terrible experiences of the 1993 Latur earthquake in India, was very successful at drawing me in and built up a lot of promise.

But we then jump to what might vaguely be called an earthquake-like change in another character's life in the United States. The parallel was loose, seeing as how the person concerned only lost their job, and was therefore motivated to start something new. Compared to losing one's home, family, friends and neighbours, suffering betrayal, and having to relocate to Mumbai, this seemed kind of lightweight, but I think the purpose was to set up friendships and enmities which would persist through the rest of the book.

From here on, though, the story suddenly diverted into a long, complex plot all about crime syndicates and drug dealers in India and nearby countries. Our two protagonists manage to break all this up almost without meaning to, by successfully threading their way through a series of amazing coincidences. Their rather bumbling approach to the whole affair mysteriously carries the day, aided by timely intervention from friends and well-wishers.

The plot is suspended between two cataclysms—the above-mentioned Latur earthquake and the 2004 Asian tsunami—and this basic device worked very well. But I got a bit lost in the intervening drug dealer story and didn't find the rather gooey romance between the male and female leads very believable. They seemed never able to get beyond a kind of adolescent idealisation of each other into a more credible and adult relationship. Insofar as the characters developed at all, they basically learned to conform to a set of behaviours and expectations set up by others. This is not a story of individuation or self-actualisation, but rather it is one of submission to external norms. As a result, everyone's emotional responses are very muted, as they increasingly take on board the philosophical position that nothing should disturb one's equanimity, and in the long run over many lifetimes everything will pan out for the best.

On the plus side, the book has been extremely well and carefully prepared, and for all of its heavy reliance on coincidence, the plot does keep moving along. I couldn't say if it accurately reflects police practice in the various countries, but to a casual reader it seems credible. And the basic structural device of hanging the story between two Asian natural disasters was a really compelling feature.

I guess my main difficulty was the mismatch of expectations. If there are parallels with any of the original tales of Shiva and Shakti, they are extremely well veiled. You will find little of the lively and authentic passion of the Khumarasambhavam, for example. The protagonists' potential for spirituality or real emotional engagement seems to be increasingly marginalised through the story, rather than liberated. I felt let down by the ways in which these two protagonists conducted themselves, given that their names hold so much mythological weight.

So, if you go in expecting a pacy crime plot set mostly in Asia, you will probably enjoy Quest for Kriya. If, like me, you were looking for something with more cosmic depths and resonances, it is best to revise your expectations and just go with the flow of what's there.

The author's website can be found here.

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