Light and shadow

Nikhil Bhave
Saturday, 5 January 2019

THE WILY AGENT/THE ZERO-COST MISSION
Author: Amar Bhushan
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 200
Price: Rs 250

Spy stories is a genre having a whole lot of diverse characters. On one hand, you have the flashy, high-stakes world of James Bond, and on other end the mundane, almost drab world of George Smiley. In reality, the setup may contain an eclectic mix of both. India has made a lot of contribution to this genre. But it has mostly remained confined to the regional authors, and not English. But patriotism is back in form, and so is spy fiction.

The spymasters themselves, given their experiences, can be a source for some excellent tales. However, they can rarely come out with the inside stuff, as they are invariably under a non-disclosure clause. Nevertheless, they remain a treasure trove for missions of bravery and skulduggery.

Amar Bhushan is one such spymaster-turned-storyteller. He served in the Border Security Force (BSF) intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and ended his career with Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). His book is a double-bill with both tales ‘inspired by true stories’ tag. Both stories centre on Bangladesh. While the country’s relations with India are seemingly on the mend, this wasn’t the case a few years ago. Like Pakistan, Bangladesh also had an Islamist regime, which did its best to make an enemy of its neighbour. It is a well-known fact that troublemakers in the North-East, such as United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) had shelter in Bangladesh, and those parties, now in opposition, persist with India-baiting.

Against this backdrop, the first tale, The Wily Agent has Jeevanathan heading the Dhaka unit of the RAW. He is offered a valuable source in the Bangladesh foreign office. Then we get introduced to any intelligence agency’s problems: bureaucracy, inefficiency, nepotism and politics. Jeevanathan has to fight on two fronts just to keep the country that much safer. The dollops of inside information add to the intrigue.

The second, The Zero-Cost Mission hits much closer to home. It almost mirrors the scenario after the Uri attacks and just before the surgical strike in 2017 against terrorists inside the Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Here, the players are Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh and Sujal Rath, a RAW official, who is given the task to deal a blow to Jamaat’s terror operations. He discovers that the funding for the mission has been withdrawn just before he is about to pull the trigger.

The novels are unique in the sense that they show us the ugly side of the system. While some people put their life on the line for their country, there is the second kind who are petty, incompetent, arrogant and mediocre and who would rather save their skin than think of the greater good.

(The book’s jacket informed us that Vishal Bharadwaj may soon be adapting these tales for the big screen.)

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