Scent Of A Game
By Raghav Chandra
The Author can be found on Raghav Chandra : His Website Biography : http://raghavchandra.org/Biography.aspx.
He is an IAS Officer, and the pertinent aspect of his career is summarised below.
He joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1982 and was posted as Assistant Collector in Satna and Sub-Divisional Magistrate in Ashoknagar near the Shivpuri National Park, and Sihora midway between Kanha and Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserves. Later he was Additional Collector at Korba near the Achanakmar Sanctuary where he was exposed to the conflict and interface between the development needs of the tribal communities on the one hand and the aspirations of the burgeoning mining/public sector/industrial sectors.
Why You Should Read This Review :
The internet is a fantastic tool : one google search can reveal a lot; and that one internet search has led me to reviews by wildlife websites, as well as others more specialised into these matters. My take on this will therefore be from a more consumerist point of view; giving reasons to read, the weaknesses and the strengths of the novel, and its most scary aspect.
The plot, shorn of all its embellishments, is straightforward and simple. The scary part lies elsewhere. This is about Tigers, or more generally about wildlife conservation in India, the illegal trade linked around the conservation, the various nexus that operate around it. There is absolutely nothing else to it, period. Please note my use of words.
The embellishments are an excellent attempt at creating an engaging fiction novel out of this concept which is boring in the extreme to anyone not from this field, or not interested in it, or not having an education in Biology. The story is told mainly through the trials and struggles for survival of two individuals who get caught in an ugly nexus partly by chance, partly by design.
One is an NRI, who gets caught in the quagmire of poaching due to no fault of his. The other is a journalist, who is on the trail of a story on Tiger Poaching. The entire story revolves around a famous Tigress Badi Maadaa, who has disappeared, despite being radio-tagged. The experiences of these two as they trail, or are entangled in this affair, and how they get out of it form the bulk of the book.
In short, there are, in effect, two parallel but entangled tales here; one is of the missing Tigress and/or Conservation of Wildlife, and the other about these 2 central characters and their struggle to survive, as one is framed, and the other targeted for Termination of the permanent kind. This is the essence of the entire plot.
The book is slow and tedious, make no mistake about that. It is painstakingly slow in places - not boring, but slow. This is not a fast-paced thriller. This is a painstakingly, lovingly put-together tale, with incredible attention to detail and plot. The plot, though unbelievably simple at one level, is exceedingly complicated at another level, as we shall see in the remaining analysis.
The key question is, for a lay reader, has the author managed to keep the interest alive? Yes, he has - through an engaging use of the related and intertwined plotlines, with both plots moving forward alternatively; a few pages on the frame-up, or personal lives, or the journalist's experiences; then interleaving it with the details of the wildlife conservation efforts of the Tiger Park, or moving the poaching and international smuggling plot forward
The punch of the book is the real and main story, shorn of the embellishments : the tiger poaching ring, the movement of smuggled skins and other items, and the nitty gritty of the entire modus operandi, told in detail. The book is a fascinating repository of information of National Parks like Pench, Kanha, of wildlife conservation and of the working of the forest departments, as well as the forest ecosystem including tribals. Importantly, here you get the corrupt officials, the incompetents and the high-and-mighty who are involved in the entire matter.
This is something you can find in other novels as well, with a difference : in this novel, the author has exposed the interplay of incompetence and low-level corruption and its interaction with high-level corruption and serious crime, carried out in an atmosphere of bureaucracy and political control. This is where the author is in unique territory; read the book solely for this, if for nothing else.
And that is the scary part; the Author, as I pointed out, an IAS Officer with practical experience in this precise geographical tract, spanning these Tiger Parks. The shocking callousness and incompetence, the vicious nexus that operate in this fiction novel, when seen in the backdrop of the Author's background, paint a terrifying possibility, and underline the need for positive change in India, and the need for supporting the good officers from the IAS Services, as has been shown in the book as well!
This is a must read for all... dont miss this one...