Lessons in leader disposal. . . . .
Coups d'etat were once a very fashionable thing, in Asia, Africa and Latin America. That was in the days when democracy was no more than a pious expression of sentiment, when people power was as yet an unknown phenomenon. And in these past two decades or so, coups have somehow retreated not merely into the past but into the innermost recesses of our minds as well. Ben Coes, however, takes us back to that lost world of coups. Of course, there is little of the glamour of old which comes through his definition of a coup. But what does come through is a slight remembrance of the many ways in which western governments often tried bringing down governments not very much to their liking. The instances are innumerable --- Sukarno, Fidel Castro, the Diems, Joao Goulart, Allende, Nasser and more.
It is somewhat a recalling of the old coups that Coes makes readers go into in Coup d'Etat. Broadly speaking, though, Coes' coup, fictional as it is, is set in the aftermath of a changed world. The change is something you can link with America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In this riveting account of a nuclear conflict that threatens South Asia, Coes builds on recent history. In his telling of the tale, Pakistan falls into the hands of the fundamentalist Omar el Khayab, not through a revolution or a putsch but through an election that has placed him in the country's presidency. El Khayab is blind, permanently assisted by his brother and driven by an inordinate zeal to wipe out Hindu-dominant India. A sense of recent history assails you here. You almost see, or think you see, the blind Mullah Omar, lately of Taliban-driven Afghanistan. The blindness in Pakistan's fictional president and that in Afghanistan's real former ruler may not quite be a coincidence, for an analysis of the two reveals other character traits which show up their propensity for destruction. Mullah Omar's regime destroyed culture and society in Afghanistan. In this tale, Omar el Khayab, possessed of a determination to wipe out the enemy across the frontier, drops a nuclear bomb on a village in India.
And then begins the scramble, on America's part (America is the only country, even in fiction, which can bring warring nations together), to limit the damage. And for that to be done, New Delhi's hand must be stayed. India's political leadership, led by President Rajiv Gandhra, is ready to strike back. But that response must be prevented at all costs, which means a swift journey to the Indian capital by the United States President Allaire in the company of his national security advisor Jessica Tanzer. India's president running the show? The book yanks you away, for a long while, into a study of the Indian political system, where parliament is the fount of all authority. Ben Coes may have missed a step here where comprehending the Indian state framework is concerned. That the president of India, in constitutional terms, is a figurehead and that the prime minister is the spokesperson for the system is a reality which has been lost sight of. Gandhra has his prime minister and other ministers in thrall, almost, to him. In demeanour he is like any other politician in office relishing his hold on power. Bristling in indignation at El Khayab's perfidy, he is raring to go through dropping nuclear bomb on Pakistan in retaliatory fashion. But American diplomacy comes in the way.
The focal point of the tale is the need for the Americans to engineer, in the aftermath of El Khayab's nuclear act, the ouster of Pakistan's president. Only that and nothing else will satisfy the Indians. And yet the idea comes from Jessica Tanzer, whose role in the story shines all the way in a combination of colours. She is beautiful, she has the president's ear and she decides Washington's political strategy. And, yes, she is in love with Dewey Andreas, the central character in the work. The former special agent is not merely the man who will free Pakistan of El Khayab but is also the heroic figure for whom Tanzer waits in the fullness of passion. Andreas must be the man to rid Pakistan, and the world, of El Khayab and his outfit. But that would call for the possibilities of a coup in Islamabad and a willingness by a senior military officer to replace the president. General Karref is discussed but is soon dismissed. He dies beside his mistress, per courtesy of Andreas. The Americans, relieved that an unreliable army chief is finally out of the way, then zero in on Field Marshal Xavier Bolin.
Nuclear war between India and Pakistan is eventually averted. President Omar el Khayab and his brother, led out of Aiwan-e-Sadr, the presidential palace, are disposed of. Bolin takes charge in shaky circumstances and then, sooner than expected, persuades himself into believing that he can emerge free of the American shadow over him. He has two of Andreas' companions murdered in treacherous fashion before putting Andreas on an aircraft to Lebanon, where the father of a terrorist the American had earlier taken out waits for him. But the thrill takes a new turn. Israelis, responding to US appeals for help in rescuing Andreas, storm Beirut airport. The results are predictable. Andreas is safe, at a cost.
Pakistan's military leader Xavier Bolin will soon be dead.
Modern woman spinning in the medieval
Nasreen Jahan has always been a vocal writer. That in essence has meant her making forays into a literary world that is much noted for its diversity as well as for its vitality of expression. When quite some years ago, she came forth with Urukku, there was the subtle and yet the unambiguous message that a writer had arrived. Not that Jahan had not written before. Indeed, as she has told your reviewer more than once, the urge to write within her has been a consistent theme of her existence for years on end. The agony of a writer --- and writers cannot operate without agony --- has tested her for much of her literary career. That desire to know more in order to give, to her readers, even more has been part of her approach to writing. Urukku and the other chunks of fiction which have issued from within her imagination are emblematic of this sublime madness, if you might want to call it, which has egged her on.
So Urukku was there, making waves among the Bengali literati and, more pointedly, among the general mass of readers. There was a certain, if sometimes indefinable, boldness about Urukku. The radicalism which underscored Urukku has now transferred itself on to the English translation of Jahan's work, one she would like people to know as The Woman Who Flew. Urukku is never a complacent woman. Pliant submission to authority, often to decadent social norms, is never a difficulty with Nasreen Jahan, for she is not one to be submissive. She happens to be one who has been able to shed her inhibitions in order to stride fully and confidently into the world of the living. Hence Urukku, hence the English rendering of the title.
The Woman Who Flew is that simple march of consistency for the protagonist in the tale. Nina watches the world go by, perhaps with a tinge of salt and a dash of defiance. And that is where the Bengali woman's predicament comes in. Nina's is in knowing of her fundamental loneliness, her inability to revolt against established mores, though the urge to rise against historical prejudice endlessly rears its head in her perceptions of people and circumstances. That is what you have a glimpse of in this work. Married and then divorced, Nina is clearly in the mood to deal with the world on her terms. You watch her carry herself and you ask if it is the liberated woman in her that you see walk past you. She has a common enough job, though she is clearly qualified for a better position. And, together with that, she is ensconced among colleagues defined by attitudes which generally assail the middle class in Bengali society.
Is Nina happy? The answer depends on individual definitions of happiness. At one level, Nina appears to relish her freedom now that she is no more a married woman. Her life is her own, which thought Nasreen Jahan often brings up, especially through a juxtaposition of the protagonist and Shanu. Nina does not complain, not even when the landlord berates Shanu and her husband over Nina's 'questionable' lifestyle. The absurdity of the situation is what strikes her. Life, in that overall sense of the meaning, is absurd. The man who leaves his bedroom stealthily in the night for sex with the woman from the nearby slum, the insinuation from Nina's colleagues that she and her boss, having incidentally been absent from work on the same day, may have been spending time together, her sloshing through mud and rain looking for the home of a relative she hardly knows --- all these are part of the pattern of absurdity for Nina.
Enter Rezaul, in all his diffidence. Ex-husband, worried man, individual driven by envy, he hovers around Nina. Did she sleep with Salauddin? His question irritates his former wife. She has not, she knows. She tells him a different story. Yes, she says. It is in her dealings with people --- with Satyajit, with Salauddin, with her colleague Sultana, with her brother, with sister Ranu --- that Nina assumes the roundness of a literary character. In Irfan Chacha, there are mysteries to be resolved, art to be revived in the soul. In her dash to get into buses, in her need for loans from Sultana, in her embarrassment at discovering compromising photographs of women in the pages of her brother's books you come across a modern woman engaged in a resolute struggle to break free of the circle of medievalism she could well be besieged by.
Rage defines Nina. Intensity of desire, in varied degrees, drives her on, to more rage. Which is as it should be. Which gives you an opening into the many crevices of her soul. You will likely spot Mahim, in all his masculine splendour, gathering Nina in the crucible of his passion, only to turn his back on her.