Once upon this time - The Asian Age (19 August 2001)

Nothing stirs up a writer like other writers, and nothing stirs up a reviewer more than a novel told with a twist! With a cunning plot up his sleeve, Shashi Tharoor's Riot skims the anguish of isolation and the social mores of Indian society bringing back once in a while the historic crutches of suspicion and divisiveness that we have been left with.

With news of a slain American in India, and an epitaph of a remembrance in reminiscing over the Death Of An Idealist, Tharoor's Riot prepares you for a novel that flows and ebbs like the tide.

But what Tharoor does not prepare you for is the fascinating flashback-the manner of his insightful and intensely Indianesque narrative. Here in single plot he weaves the pages of many a diary, letters form journals and transcripts of interviews.

Priscilla Hart is the American research volunteer who comes to run a population control programme HELP- US. In her relationship with District Magistrate V. Lakshman we see the alternate inner recesses of a man and a woman.

Intriguing how Tharoor is able to bring us the diary of Priscilla Hart with a perception that, is so utterly feminine - and then in the very next chapter he brings us the entries of chauvinist Lakshman - the flip in the two personas is so tidily written that it actually makes you turn back and read Hart's emotions once again.

Voices abound, as well as historic details of typical behaviour, Tharoor takes us back in time to the days of Maulana Azad and the Indo-Pakistan division. But he also positions in the contemporary context to explain the hard-liner approaches of some Muslims as well as some Hindus.

But it is "Lakshman to Priscilla Hart" which sizzles in terms of understanding the confusions of the truly Indian mind set. "I'm an administrator, not a political scientist, but I'd say there are five major sources of division in India - language, region, caste, class and religion." With that statement Tharoor devotes the rest of the book to the illustration of that very tenet.

While the plot is played out on the moonscape of an irresistibly rustic universe - what comes through is the small town mentality of selfishness as well as the fact that Indians cannot quite be stupefied even by the summer heat.

In the language of history is also the language of love, in the languor of a lazy summer two people find the magic of human chemistry, suddenly all barriers of nations and boundaries of perception vanish Tharoor deals with this relationship in an ease of effortless naturality.

But of course the intellectually sexual rendezvous at the Kotli every Tuesday and Saturday. Between the moral miscreant, the innocent killed, the gullible believer and the seductive satiation of a white woman and a babu who writes poetry, it is the raw plot of jealousy, and the bitterness of revenge that keeps the story on the crest of an emotional wave.