If you want a work of fiction that combines a murder mystery with ideas and characters taken from Hindu mythology, then Mayank Mahajan’s Balan & Dheera: A Tale of Kaliyuga has you covered. It cannot escape any sharp reader’s observation that this book is part of a pattern — of books that touch upon Hindu gods and make them into characters and participants in some epoch of human history.
Whereas some authors have weaved their mythology-laden tales during bygone ages when kings and kingdoms were the order of the day, Mr Mahajan has set his story in a contemporary setting — complete with chartered flights and cellphones and social media.
A modern setting no doubt offers many ways to connect with readers by creating characters that readers can relate to. At the same time, one can choose to comment on all the evils of human character in the modern age — Kaliyuga, as the Hindu timeline defines it.
In his tale, the author doesn’t hesitate to link ancient knowledge systems with modern scientific concepts — from Newton’s Laws to quantum physics, the space-time continuum and perhaps even dark energy and black holes.
The book begins with a series of mysterious murders taking place in some of the largest Indian cities — New Delhi and Lucknow. The murders are rather gruesome. The book’s principal characters are those in charge of solving these murders — police officers and a medical examiner. The names of the characters in the book are only their first names — Balan, Sathya, Maruti, Geeta, Anant, Meera, Vijaya and so forth. Only ‘Baij Nath’ is the exception.
As the investigation takes the police officers to the senior priest Baij Nath in Kashi, the tale gets uniquely intriguing as it links the murders to ancient rituals performed to capture souls. We learn about ‘Masters of Spirit’ and ‘negative energy’ and how the negative energy had been sealed forever.
The investigators figure out that there is a pattern to the murders — they all take place on days or nights of the full Moon. The victim belongs to the Zodiac sign applicable to that month. Thus alerted, the sleuths use some high tech computer wizardry to try and protect potential victims. The police fail miserably and also witness some extraordinary powers of the killer, Balan.
Baij Nath is sought out as the expert in religious matters and the only person who can solve this murder mystery. Nath has his theories. Sample this: “When I met the two police officers, who helped me discover the loss of ancient knowledge that I was entrusted with, I felt great sorrow. Among the scrolls that were stolen were practices to harness cosmic energy from souls for times of despair.”
Nath also says: “The soul has a fragile balance between good and bad. When the great powers sealed the evil back in Vedic times, they were able to get rid of the major clusters. But negativity, in traces, had seeped inside everything. That is why the Masters decided to leave traces of their energy all over the universe, so that life would remain in balance.”
On the Zodiac signs, Nath has this to say: “The twelve zodiacs, as you may or may not know, are not just astrological symbols but barriers that cover humanity. When the negative and the positive traces from the tyrants and the Masters amalgamated, they formed twelve variations in the balance of energies. The balance was only off by minor fractions. But it caused personality and ambition differences in individuals who fell under these variations. This barely maintained balance is what keeps mankind away from its latest potential for evil.”
Nath says about modern life: “The modern life and its ways have already been tipping the scale against humanity itself, but since the individual acts of negativity are not as substantial, the skewed scale has somehow maintained balance.”
In Nath’s telling, humanity’s future goes like this: “Greed, lust, gluttony, pride, envy, sloth and wrath, the sins that plague society today, have reduced the humanity quotient in humans, draining away the strength and corrupting the barriers. The judgement of mankind for all its collective wrongdoings, through the natural cycle, is inevitable. The human character will be repeatedly tested over centuries, and the race itself will choose its rise or fall.”
Nath warns that Balan is no ordinary criminal: “He is attacking these barriers and allowing the negativity to overpower the positive in order to reveal to the cosmos, what he considered as the true face of mankind.”
As the murders continued and the police officers’ plans to capture Balan ‘in the act’ failed, things kept getting worse and more desperate. People were rioting in the big cities and civilization itself was in danger of collapsing.
As Maruti soughts out Baij Nath in Jammu after taking the help of a journalist friend, Anant, Baij Nath spells out how grim the situation really was. Baij Nath explained how the Vedas recorded the birth of man as a part of many cosmic wonders, created by Lord Brahma, “when he brought the cosmos itself into existence.”
Things only keep getting worse. Balan displays more astonishing feats than ever before.
As Baij Nath tries to find a ‘solution’ to the Balan problem, Maruti also vanishes in a most astonishing fashion.
The scene shifts from Jammu to Bengaluru to the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala. To explain the strange occurrences, Baij Nath talks about ‘dimensional barriers’ and other esoteric concepts such as time flowing in circles or in parallel and different timelines occasionally bumping against each other.
Meanwhile, the legend of ‘Dheera’ is touched upon in some detail. This is someone who was a contemporary of Ram and Laxman. Figures of mythology such as King Dasrath, Guru Vasishta and Rishi Bhardwaj make appearances in this section.
As we reach the last few chapters of this tale, we see a climactic battle between good and evil as it were. Many miracles take place and artefacts such as Shiva’s Trishul (or trident) make an appearance as does the Tandava dance of Shiva.
Even the very last few pages are full of many surprising twists and turns in the tale. The ‘climax’ is unpredictable and the writing style of the author keeps the reader glued to the book till the end.
From the graphic nature of the murders in the early pages to the cosmic-scale miracles towards the end as the epic battle reaches a climax, this is a book that is full of a lot of descriptive details. If you have grown up watching Hollywood thrillers like Interstellar or Tenet, and thought about how unlikely the plot points in those movies were, the book under review is in that class.