These startlingly realistic inside stories are the outcome of in-depth research, sharp analytical sk
We spoke with author Sudip Talukdar about his new release, 'Major Bakshi: The Dragon’s Nemesis'. Check out the conversation below.
Booknerds: We have studied international relations back in school or college. You have mentioned plenty of those real stories but given them a fictional touch as well. How did you choose the true incidents and merge them with the fictional narrative? Sudip Talukdar: I have juxtaposed the character of Major Bakshi with actual historical events in the light of prevailing strategic scenario, based on 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars, the bumbling, cowardly, rather disastrous response to 26/11 terror invasion and the Pathankot attack, the Amritsar hijacking, besides countless acts of jihadi depredations, in a bid to invest the plot with graphic realism and contemporary flavour. And the kind of insurmountable challenges that the Army’s ace counter-terror expert Bakshi faced.
The character had existed nebulously in my imagination initially, the outcome of my first hand exposure to army life, gradually acquiring larger than life dimensions over the years. However, these images took on a sharper focus only when the publisher insisted, out of the blue, that I write a book on China. Virtually fumbling in dark, I racked my brains on how I should go about it. The plot existed in many scattered bits, based on what I had seen, heard or experienced. But these disparate pieces of the jigsaw puzzle began falling into place, only after the protagonist had been dumped into a black hole, as a punishment posting, allegedly teeming with rowdy rejects, after a massive showdown with the brigade commander, over the despicable behavior of Bollywood actors. Being a soldier who never looked back, Major Bakshi took the apparent setback in his stride. His mission began to crystallize around the idea of organizing the military discards into one the world’s most lethal guerrilla forces, potentially capable of punishing the Dragon by driving it out of the CPEC and imposing drastic costs on its puppet Pakistan, for waging a relentless proxy war against India. I wanted to create an extraordinary character unlike any other in the annals of Indian fiction writing; someone who always finds a way around the most surmountable problems! One who would also act as a role model! Meanwhile, Major Bakshi undertakes one of the most audacious missions of his life, tricking the ISI into sending a fifty strong squad, comprising some of the most ruthless killers and Afghan mujahideens, into eliminating him.
However, the protagonist in a masterstroke, ambushes the entire group, inflicting a crippling reversal on the enemy spy agency, undoing decades of planning, preparation and resources. Not a single man escapes alive. The ISI bosses are livid and are determined to execute the general staff officers whom they hold responsible for the catastrophe. But utilizing his assets in Pakistan, Major Bakshi manages to save them, who yield a huge cache of first information in dozens of pen drives, which helps in destroying the terror apparatus. I wanted to demonstrate, even in a fictional format, how the Army can easily bring Pakistan down to its knees, if given a free hand! But vote bank politics comes in the way!
There are also allusions to towering historical figures like Sri Aurobindo, the father of the revolutionary movement in India and the prime accused in Alipore Conspiracy case, his younger sibling Barindra Ghosh, the face of Anushilan Samiti, the nursery of rebels and Bhagat Singh, with whom he is related. Major Bakshi also refers to Gen Sundarji, who started down the Chinese PLA in Somdorong in 1987 and Gen Sagat Singh, who beat back the Dragon in Nathu La, 1967. Lt Gen FN Bilimoria, my father’s colleague and friend, also makes an appearance. Who can forget, Nehru and Krishna Menon, the architects of the most ignominious defeat ever inflicted on the Indian Army. Ultimately, Major Bakshi’s mission is to target and smash the China-Pakistan nexus for good. He employs every scrap of resources, intelligence and his Baloch friends and associates to that end.
Booknerds: Several incidents are deeply rooted in the internal happenings of the Indian Army. How did you get to know these inside stories? Did you speak to anyone in the Army to get firsthand input and placing them in a fictional context? Sudip Talukdar:These startlingly realistic inside stories are the outcome of in-depth research, sharp analytical skills, political antenna, a lifetime of reading and interaction with my father’s colleagues in the Army. I have highlighted the real factors why Nehru and his advisers shirked from utilizing the IAF to bombard Chinese positions and turn the tide of war in 1962. Restrained by fears of retaliatory bombing on West Bengal’s industrial belt, they might have acted had they been told about the PLA air fleet being grounded by the lack of Russian spares. The generals expose this hypocrisy and the sheer bumbling during deliberations at the War Veterans Strategic Foundation (WVSF). Unfortunately, none of the individuals from politics, the bureaucracy or the police, entrusted with our security, has ever served in the Indian Army of Navy, yet pontificate on strategic matters, as if they were the only domain experts. That remains the most crippling national shortcoming today. Conversely, a dozen presidents and Defence Secretaries in the US have a military background, who served in World War II, Vietnam or Afghanistan. It is a country which honours and respects servicemen, unlike India.
Booknerds: There are scenes where you have made Major Bakshi overreact to situations and make him quite hateable (sic). But also redeeming parts where he is empathetic and human. Is Major Bakshi inspired by a real character? And can we expect a sequel with him in the lead again? Sudip Talukdar: It is a fallacy to suggest that Major Bakshi overreacts to situations. Rather he is one of the coolest players and the country’s top counter terror expert, inspired by the Likes of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox and one of the greatest military commanders of all time. Especially his diversionary tactics, which he employs to devastating effect against terrorists and Pakistanis! But at heart the infantry officer yearns for a simple life. I had written: “Deep down, he longed for a more settled way of life, wearying of the rigours of a regimented existence, exploring the invisible strands that bound the country and kept it ticking as one, despite so many diversities and contradictions.”
Says Major Barindra Ghosh, his second in command: “If I may say so (Major Bakshi is) an absolute tyrant on the field. But you could not find a kinder or more compassionate human being today.” He also becomes instrumental in reinstating soldiers punished for discharging family responsibilities on humanitarian grounds! I have based Major Bakshi on my persona, character, kindness, consideration, worldview and sharp intellect, etc. There are also some biographical details that I have invested in the character.
Booknerds: What made you choose this cover design for the book? Since the Dragon isn’t a real one and it is more of a metaphorical way to describe the enemy, what made you give this abstract form to it? Sudip Talukdar:I finalized the cover in tandem with the publisher after rejecting six or seven other designs, because they did not quite express the concept as required. I wanted to convey the most potent and invincible symbol of Chinese might, the dragon and how it terrorizes the world. It takes a very determined and fearless adversary like Major Bakshi to bring it down. A spear piercing the creature’s long neck, against a background of fire and devastation, just seemed to communicate my intent in right earnest. A picture is said to transmit a thousand words. My intent here was not only to pay tribute to the Indian Army, but also the heroic people in Balochistan, who helped Major Bakshi to fix the Chinese and shatter the Beijing-Islamabad nexus.
Booknerds: This book is quite different from your other work - Proxy Wars. They were both released in 2021 but have vastly different themes. How did you manage to write both simultaneously, one focusing on the Indian Army and the other in the crime genre? Sudip Talukdar:The first one grew out of the registered movie script which took me fairly long to write. I converted it into a novel over the next few months. Both the themes in Proxy War and Major Bakshi are based on how the Indian Army responds to dire threats. “What if the enemy as a last ditch stand, injects drugs into the proxy war to target soldiers and compromise segments of the ultimate line of defence? Challenging the Indian Army in its own backyard and turning uniformed men into drug addicts, however, ensures the destruction of entire terror infrastructure in Pakistan. The Dragon’s Nemesis picks up from where Proxy War left off, but with multiple layers and on a much grander scale. Major Bakshi is determined to drive the Dragon out of the CPEC and succeeds.
Booknerds: You have shared plenty of moments related to Indian cinema and its modern representation of the Indian Army. There are scenes where Major Bakshi tells off actors and personalities who act too cocky about their work in the movies. Are these voices given to your personal opinions and frustration? Sudip Talukdar: Bollywood ridicules the Indian Army, its uniforms, regimental pride, ethos and sense of sacrifice, issues which have always exercised me, as the son of a war veteran and as a senior journalist. Every actor struts about on the big screen as a Para Commando, thinking he is as entitled and as exalted as the royalty, but ends up caricaturing them. Do the Devguns, Anil Kapoors and John Abrahams realize that out of a hundred aspirants, only eight or ten qualify for the maroon beret? In real life, their likes would have been eliminated within minutes from reckoning. A movie like Major Saab, helmed by ageing thespian Bachchan, legitimizes shocking acts of vandalism, insubordination and indiscipline at the National Defence Academy, the nursery of military officers. So what kind of message is the movie sending about life in the Army? I am also appalled by the misleading images of Vicky Kaushal who is unfit to portray Sam Bahadur on the screen. When the likes of a pathetic Greek god with blue eyes goofs up and misbehaves with Major Bakshi and spits in his presence, he is bound to be thrashed and humiliated by the infantry officer as the host and marched out of the forward location with his hangers on. Lakshya is the only movie in the history of Indian cinema which correctly depicts Indian soldiery.
Booknerds: The book is multifaceted - supernatural elements, scientific theories like the black hole, herbs and medicines, and much more. How did you research all these topics and did you have sources who could help you research your claims? Sudip Talukdar: Native American Indians, with whom I have an abiding empathy, who respect Mother Nature, play an extra dimensional, cosmic role in my novel, led by the Shaman, Onacona. This is my way of telling the world that both the spiritual and the material are two sides of the same coin and shape the world as we know of it. The Shaman is Major Bakshi’s link with the elders of the Sioux tribe, who dwell in the world beyond. He appears in the Major’s dreams to communicate vital messages, addresses him as the ‘Little Chief.’ This connect comes to be established owing to the major’s past life links with the tribe. The visitor helps him infuse his men with strength and stamina to prepare for the mission against Pakistan and China.
I have also exposed the revolting hypocrisy of Europeans and Americans in calling out our alleged human rights violations and acts of intolerance, when their own ancestors committed barbaric excesses on indigenous cultures. The white colonists had exterminated a 100 million Native American Indians over 400 years, according to historian David E Stannard in his book, American Holocaust. The references to the tribe, mystical dreams and the otherworldly realms are an outcome of my extensive reading, understanding of science, past life theories, parapsychology and spirituality. “I agree that the greatest danger comes from UAVs and drones, ” Major Bakshi informs General Sangram Singh, aware of the threat from technological advances, “which could easily detect our presence with their infrared cameras! But we also possess the wherewithal either to decoy or confuse them by cloaking heat emitting devices.”
Booknerds: We often read comedic books and laugh out loud. Or read horror books and genuinely get scared. It isn’t so easy to ignite patriotism in people’s minds while reading something heroic like this. How did you make the book so realistic and spark the exact emotions in people’s minds with your words? Sudip Talukdar: I have taken the readers into my confidence, sharing with them the moves and counter moves, every twist and turn of the plot, besides making them conscious of what it is to like to fight against enormous odds thrown at military men by destiny, in service of the nation. The protagonist suffers the first jolt in his exemplary career for questioning the rowdyism of drunken actors, by being dumped into a black hole as a punishment posting. He may be down but not out and goes on to forge the most marginalized Army men into an extremely lethal guerrilla force.
I have fictionalized real events involving soldiers being roughed up by policemen in small towns and cities and its impact on their psyche, compounded by the passivity of the administration, in order to gain the reader’s sympathy. I have also shared graphic details about political and bureaucratic bungling in strategic and military matters which impact the nation dearly and builds up a realistic scenario and a sense of immediacy. I have provided a ring side view of the deliberations of key players in the corridors of power and how they respond to threats. Major Bakshi combines ruthlessness with compassion, the twin attributes of Lord Krishna, in protecting Dharma and in discharge of his duties.