Ashwin Sanghi’s books are really all about the research and the intricate theories he likes weaving out of historical trivia and popular lore. As with his debut, The Rozabal Line and that ponderous political yarn The Chanakya Chant, this book too is a smorgasboard of wild theories, historical factoids delivered with mind numbing regularity by one or more cast members, a plot brimming with contrived dialogue and coincidences , and some remarkably clunky writing. It’s almost a pity that Sanghi needs to present his fantastic ideas to us as fiction, as his characters, plotlines and writing skills never quite match the ambitious arc of the conspiracy theories he spins our way in The Krishna Key. None of this theorizing is really his own , of course, but pieced together from the reams of research he has painstakingly plodded through, all of it listed at the end of this book. But it is intriguing nonetheless, makes compelling arguments for some very far out notions, and waves high the bright yellow flag of Hindu supremacy (with one belated namaskar to Hindu-Muslim unity) .
The Krishna Key begins with a quest for four seals and a base plate, supposedly clues to an artifact of immense power handed down to the world by Krishna himself. Rather predictably, the one person with all the answers is murdered by a psychopathic killer (the kind who will leave bracelets engraved with his name lying around crime scenes), and all blame is at once placed on the shoulders of a respected academic with connections to the dead man. As fast as you can yell ’Ha! Desi Da Vinci Code!’, the academic, Dr. Saini, hares off on a race against time to follow a trail of clues across India, save some fellow academics from similar grisly deaths and prove his innocence. Joining him on the ride are a motley crew – comely doctoral student Priya, shady lawyers, hapless cop Rathore and his boss , a bizarre policewoman with a penchant for squirreling away nuts and prayer beads in her pockets (never seems to have a gun in there, though). Livening things up a smidgeon are our killer with aspirations to being the Kalki avatar, the mysterious puppetmaster Mataji and a side dish of the usual suspects –corrupt cops, strange all-knowing fakirs , even stranger gangsters with a yen for history. There is also this deeply puzzling monologue supposedly by Krishna himself, that precedes each chapter, and that makes absolutely no contribution to the meandering plot.
By the halfway mark, Sanghi gives up all pretence of writing anything but an academic dissertation on the location of the elusive artifact– the baddies stand revealed, our killer is reduced to no more than a gullible student of the year, and every conversation leads to a prolonged and very tedious discourse on history and the undeniable supremacy of Hindu philosophy over Everything. By the time the grand finale - in the basement of the Taj Mahal, no less - whimpers by, you can almost sense Sanghi’s impatience to be done with irritating diversions like plotline and character, and get on with the real business at hand - the key to the Key, as it were.
If you like your fiction garnished with a bit of everything –in this case, everything from history and philosophy to metallurgy and quantum physics – and unrelentingly saffron, The Krishna Key is a book you will enjoy. If you'd prefer a sound story under all that garnish, look elsewhere.