Book review – Baaz

In the past Anuja Chauhan has tackled topics such as cricket and politics in her novels, The Zoya Factor and the Battle for Bittora respectively. I like her writing but I’m not what you would call a fan. Anuja Chauhan is known for witty romances nestled in good, if sometimes unbelievable plots. I was skeptical going in when I heard Baaz was about war, the Indo-Pak 1971 war no less. Baaz offers us a behind the scenes view into the lives of everyone associated with air force.  The multitude of things the air force men worry about, knowing their future is uncertain. How their wives and girlfriends deal with the stresses of their men being in combat.

Baaz opens in 1957 newly independent India. 10 year old Ishaan ‘Baaz’ Faujdaar is standing in front of an incoming train to get his adrenaline kick, to get that dhook-dhookk-dhoookk feeling, as he calls it. Ishaan or Shaanu, as he’s fondly known, is a thrill seeker. Motherless, his stepfather isn’t too fond of him but his five siblings hero-worship him. His Nanaji gives Ishaan the idea of becoming a pilot so that he could get the thrill he craves for. And there is no looking back.

10 years later, Ishaan gets through the exam and joins the  Indian Air Force (IAF). Here he meets Rakesh Aggarwal (Raka) and Madan Subbiah (Maddy) who were in NDA corps together. Initially they make fun of him but soon become his good friends. Ishaan takes never having known his father, coming from a humble background and not knowing English, lightly. His faith in himself (read cocksure) tides him over.

Ishaan meets Tehmina Dadyseth (Tinka) when he’s on duty and she’s fleeing her marriage. They appear to have some kind of a connection which they realize when their paths cross again. She doesn’t believe in hyper-patriotism and hates the idea of war whereas for Ishaan the country comes first, and everything is black and white. Their backgrounds are vastly different and so is the way they view the world, but they do have something in common. The chemistry was sizzling but there was something missing.

Tinka, the motherless daughter of Major General Ardisher Dadyseth, was born to challenge the status quo.  She is unafraid to go where very few women have gone. From studying photography to becoming a war correspondent in Dacca, she is undeterred once she has made up her mind.

Caste is very much in the air though caste system has been abolished. Pakistanis and Muslims were viewed with the same suspicious lens. The society then was regressive and not to mention conservative – not ready to accept independent free thinking men or women who deviate from the norm. So it was heartening to have many strong female characters in the book, who defied convention in their own way.

As the book progresses and the war continues in full fervour, there are casualties. But their comrades have no time to grieve. They have to move past it and get into killer mode to avenge the death of fellow officers.

In Baaz the bromance is done well, which is new ground for Anuja Chauhan. Writing from the male PoV because the central character is male and so are many of the key characters, is executed well.

With Anuja Chauhan’s books crackling dialogue is a given, and she doesn’t disappoint us in Baaz.

The setting is more or less spot on with the  sights, sounds, and smells. But I would have preferred it to be less descriptive. Some scenes should have been shown to us not told, and some surprises left for the reader to discover, instead of stating it.

The book is peppered with great similes like this :

The Intercontinental Hotel squats self-importantly like a fat slice of birthday cake in the dust place that is Dacca, the other structures of the city heaped deferentially around it like lesser snacks that know their place.

Anuja Chauhan draws out humour from everyplace imaginable. In the book there’s a General who is obsessed with playing Tambola while a war is raging!

The sentences peppered with Hinglish are a staple in Anuja Chauhan’s books. But here there were some words and phrases I didn’t understand. A glossary would have been nice for those who are unfamiliar with the lingo.

I already knew how Baaz would end thanks to the people who had blabbed about it on social media. I hated the trite ending. And the epilogue was filmi to say the least and designed to bring out maximum emotion. It didn’t work for me.

Baaz is overlong. Some parts where the flight manoeuvres were described felt laboured and too technical for the layperson. But hats off to the author for writing a unlikely story, presented in a style true to her.

Note – My copy was sponsored by Flipkart’s Book Review Program but the thoughts are my own.