Science and spirituality collide in Ashwin Sanghi's latest thriller
Ashwin Sanghi's latest potboiler is the product of a nightmare. "I woke up one morning," he says, "feeling utterly tired because of a bad dream. I wondered aloud to my wife that the dream had felt real. Then I began wondering if it were possible that my dream state was actually another life. What if my regular life was the dream? That was the core idea that prompted me to write Keepers of the Kalachakra."
Although the idea came to him in a dream, the book itself is rooted in reality. It begins with the Canadian Prime Minister, who has the "world's female population swooning over him", suddenly falling ill inside the White House. As the American President - who is "brash and politically incorrect" - looks on, the young leader is quickly transferred to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. Even as his condition severely deteriorates, Sanghi puts the situation on hold and takes us back by twelve months.
From Washington D.C., the setting now changes to Jordan. Four spies, one each from the US, Russia, China and India, discuss the troubling trend of world leaders dying under mysterious circumstances. The group's sole purpose is to keep the world from spiralling into chaos, but they have no clue who might be behind the killings.
The saviour appears in front of their eyes in the form of Vijay Sundaram. Contrary to what one may presume, the protagonist is no swashbuckling hero but an unassuming scientist. When he is offered the chance to work at a research lab, which has connections to the killings, the four spies persuade him to become their inside man.
Inside the research facility, Sundaram is enlightened to the Buddhist concept of kalachakra (wheel of time), and how it may affect the world of science. He is astonished by the discovery, more so because it affirms his own thoughts about the interconnectedness of science and spirituality.
The author himself says, "In this book, there are many connections that I draw between the world of quantum physics and Eastern spirituality. I have never been a science student and I had to teach myself the fundamentals of quantum theory before I could get started. The reading and research continued for a little over eighteen months. Almost a third of the material was left out because I believed that it would overwhelm the reader."
The end product doesn't overwhelm the reader at all. Even when Sundaram, in the beginning of the book, gives a college lecture on quantum physics, Einstein and the Vedanta, Sanghi's writing style allows the speech to be a fascinating one.
While we readers find Sanghi's writing fascinating, the author in question admires the writing of the past. Sanghi says, "Most of our contemporary mythological retellings span the epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But what about the Puranas? There are fascinating stories relating to Vayu, Garuda, Agni, Narada and countless others. In addition, I believe that Eastern philosophy rather than mythology can be a very interesting space to explore."
Whether Sanghi himself explores the subject further remains to be seen. But for now, he says, "I will start work on my next book (the sixth) in the Bharat Series in a couple of months. In the meantime, there are three manuscripts in the 13 Steps Series that still require my attention. I hope to have these completed before embarking on the next big project."