The attraction of reading Prashant Yadav's The Jeera Packer for me was the prospect of an easy, entertaining read. The plot, at least going by the blurb on the back cover, promised a retired sharpshooter returning to pull off one last act -- to shoot the chief minister of India's most populous state. This is a man who at the peak of his career as a "bullet artist" gave it all up to lead a normal life -- a life that involves packing jeera, managing a shop and having a family. All I expected from this premise was some gripping action, plans going awry, and then a climax that shows us if the middle-aged family man has brushed away the jeera dust and rediscovered himself or whether settling down rusted his skills to an extent that this last foolhardy scheme proved to be his undoing.
The problem with The Jeera Packer is that it gets a tad overambitious. Where it should have stuck to a single primary character and revolved the plot around him, the novel tries hard to be more than a thriller. A number of characters come in, there's an underlying commentary on our political and social structure, it, for considerable tracks of time, forgets the Jeera Packer and follows the lives and shenanigans of other characters. There are even a couple of romances explored in the book which I personally found to be very out of the place. This is a book that wants to be more than a thriller -- tell a tale that is "resonant and deeply affecting". Unfortunately, the problem is that it isn't profound enough and in chasing too many characters and facets, it isn't page turning enough.
The writing too is uneven. There are instances of poor grammar and overwrought similes ("The car behind me lets out a prolonged honk. The ugly noise renders through the air like a half-dead jackal bawling on a broken public address system." Elsewhere this - "My mind spins like a camphor in a bowl of water.") And of course, the entire book hinges on this one conceit - "Every artist needs to create a Taj Mahal, his Taj Mahal".
But there are bits that Yadav gets right. He seems to know his milieu - the dust, the noise, corruption, the crowd at election rallies, the scruffiness that is so much a part of Uttar Pradesh and the twisted, complicated plots and ambitions of various players, political shenanigans, internecine sniping and fighting in a political party, all of it is vividly brought to life.
For me however the best bits were just that -- bits and pieces that were too few and far in between an otherwise middling book. The Jeera Packer, in my opinion, suffers from its ambition. The premise had in it a story that would have made an interesting thriller. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough for the author.
Having said that, Prashant Yadav's next book is something that I would like to read. If he, like most writers, improves with each publication, Yadav may just be good enough once his ambition and ability are in sync.
---------------------------------Note: Thanks to Prashant Yadav for a review copy of the The Jeera Packer.