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August 27, 2011

Notes on Kalpish Ratna's 'The Quarantine Papers'

This book review has been published in association with Vodaphone Crossword Book Awards -2010. You can check out the award details here.

Author: Kalpish Ratna
Publisher: Harper Collins India
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Rating: 5/5 
That first Sunday in December, while the Prime Minister in India dozed in Delhi, lesser things happened to lesser people in Bombay.

Mohammad Yunus doused his clothes with kerosene and struck a match.

Balkrishna More leaned out over the frenzied maha-aarati in the street and jumped to his death.

In a shuttered room in Girgaum, three old men waited for an answer.

Enraptured, Radhika and Anwar were oblivious to the nasal monotone on BBC. Who saw it first? It was there, happening right before them.

A saffron ant crawled up the black dome. Then one more. Then another. Then a swarm of them. And then madness spilled every which way.
In 303, Nandanvan Apartments, Ratan Oak looked out of the window and discovered he'd been living in the wrong house all his life.

‘The Quarantine Papers’ is an absolutely fascinating book. It is one of those books which you should not start late in the night, otherwise just like me, you will end up with groggy eyes by the time you finish it in early morning. There are so many layers to it: A love story, a political saga, an historical fiction, a medical thriller, a morality tale, religious commentary and ultimately a trail of clues to solve the murder mystery. Each layer, more mysterious and engaging than the other.

It focuses on the life and encounters of Ratan Oak, a Maharashtrian Brahmin by birth and a freelancing microbiologist by occupation, who is given to hallucinations that turn him into his great-grandfather, Dr. Ramratan Oak.
As the Babri Masjid is razed in Ayodhya in 1992, Ratan stumbles upon a corpse at the Kipling House in Bombay. It is the beginning of an unraveling for him, of the submerged identity he has sought to suppress all his life: Ramratan.

Grappling with this tandem existence, Ratan realizes that the communal violence which consumes Bombay mirrors the turbulence it experienced in Ramratan's times. Yes, the shocking fact is that the communal riots that occurred in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and riots in the city in 1893 took place in the very same alleys of Bombay.The very same buildings witnessed violence and killings, a hundred years apart!!!

What follows is an exhilarating tale of following all the visual and conditional clues to observe the scientific discoveries of the plague epidemic of 1897 and discovering the terrifying truth about the dead women of Kipling House in 1992. Interspersed in the narrative are the numerous bit players whom Ratan/Ramratan encounters that poses further questions or provide clues, but add layers of complexity to this engrossing novel.

The narrative of the pace never slows down. The detailing of characters is deep and distinguished, and the different pieces of the mystery are made to fit with attention to details.The various fonts used in the book may irk a few readers but few pages into the book, you will realise how this slight diversion is used to add subtle twists in the narrative. There is a shock value attached to most revealings, yet the authors show inherent vulnerability between the characters as easily.
But in the end, the research put into this fiction book will bowl you over. From Rudyard Kipling's family to Bal Gandadhar Tilak, from medical theories to Urdu Poetry...all this subtle twists will grabs your attention from the very start and won't let it go till the end.
Kalpish Ratna is an almost-anagram of Kalpana Swaminathan and Ishrat Syed, both surgeons. The author plans to write 9 more books in Ratan/Ramaratan series. If the first book is any indication, then book lovers should be in for a treat. If the quality is maintained, this could well go down as a landmark medical-thriller series from India.


Hitesh - Book Readers Lounge said...

pls tell me more about the crossword review program, the link is not self-explanatory

Amit Gupta said...


This review was done in collaboration with Book Rack. Those books which are nominated for the awards (as mentioned in the link) were sent to some of the reviewers of Book rack. Basically, Crossword sent the books and Book rack facilitated the whole process. Today's is the last day for submission of all book reviews for this award.

nsiyer said...

Sounds interesting. I am quite curious. I will buy the book. Thanks Amit.