New Delhi : Thriller and horror story writer Ravi Shankar Etteth, who has woven his new whodunit around freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, says Indians are just beginning to enjoy and appreciate crime fiction.
“Why do people in this country say crime stories and thrillers are inferior? It is literature. So long as you can give intelligent people a good read, you should not care. I dislike passionate intellectuals who don’t live their lives,” Etteth told IANS.
Etteth is an emerging name in the fledging genre of thrillers and supernatural fiction in the country. His third novel “The Gold of Their Regrets”, a thriller based on a fictitious tale of Netaji’s last flight from India, was launched by veteran journalist Vir Sanghvi here Monday.
“I think Indians are just starting to have fun and appreciate crime fiction,” said the writer, who is also the group editor of the Voice of India television network.
“The Gold of Their Regrets” begins on Aug 18, 1945, when the commander of the Indian National Army (INA) boards a Mitsubishi-K1-21 bomber to fly east to Manchuria and crashes into the heart of a jungle in Myanmar with 30 million pounds in gold.
Only three men know the truth behind the crash and what happened to the gold that disappeared mysteriously. Sixty years later, a stranger stalks these men, seeking the lost gold and revenge.
“I wrote my first ghost story at Leila aunty’s (novelist Vikram Seth’s mother) sprawling hilltop home in Shimla, where I was vacationing in the early 80s. She was the chief justice of Himchal Pradesh then.
“My friend David Davidar of Penguin Books told me to do something useful instead of lolling in the sun. I wrote a short story and he included it in the ‘Indian Collection of Ghost Stories’, which Ruskin Bond was editing,” said Etteth.
In 1996, Etteth wrote his first volume of short horror stories, “The Scream of the Dragonflies”, which he says was “full of vampires”. He followed it up with a full-length thriller, “The Village of Widows”, a prequel to his new novel.
The author says World Wars I and II have had a deep influence on him.
“It’s because of their scale of evil. What Japan did to China and Germany to Europe did during the wars cannot be matched with anything but the atrocities in the days of Timur and Babur. Most of the perpetrators of war world crimes were not skilled executioners. They were either doctors, lawyers, dentists or professionals,” Etteth said.
It meant that the masterminds could not create a “massive evil machinery”, the writer inferred. “Which proves given an opportunity, 90 percent people are capable of creating total evil.”
“My grandpa fought in the World War II in Mesopotamia and I liked reading about the war to while away my time,” Etteth said.
While browsing through the Internet to learn more about the wars, Etteth stumbled upon a diary of an Indian airman of the Royal Indian Air Force, who fought in the Burma theatre during World War II.
“I also chanced upon an Indian regiment that fought for Mussolini’s army, the Battaglione Azad Hindoustan, and another that swore allegiance to Hitler, Freies Indian Legionnaires,” he said.
Mussolini wanted to send the legion to go to Africa, but the Indian soldiers wanted to fight the British.
“It sparked a revolt and the deserters apparently became mercenaries and a handful joined Bose’s Indian National Army,” the author said.
The slices of history set the writer thinking.
“Netaji had made a lot of money. After his plot in India failed, he probably wanted to fly out with all the money and gold he had collected. But his INA mates wanted the gold back and shot down his plane.”
And that is how Etteth hit upon the idea for his latest novel.