The Viper: When Its Poison Becomes an Antidote is a thriller novel by political analyst and author Rajesh Singh, inspired from the kidnapping of the daughter of former Union Home Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, by militants in Kashmir Valley in 1989.
Launched on Tuesday (July 21) and published by Garuda Books Prakashan, the book reimagines the situation, where the Indian response goes much beyond the immediate rescue of the minister’s daughter. Spread across 26 chapters, it merges fact and fiction, with mentions of the Hizbul Mujahideen, ISI, Mossad, RAW and the Intelligence Bureau, and follows the story of Rudra Patnaik, who has earned the moniker of the ‘Viper’ in intelligence circles. An interview with Singh:
Why did you choose this particular incident to base your book on?
My first book, Portraits of Hindutva, was published in December 2018, and the Baahubalis of Indian Politics was due for publication in a few months’ time. I had also completed writing two other non-fiction books. Feeling fatigued with this genre, I decided to try my hand at fiction, and began work on The Viper sometime in September 2020. I wrote the book in three months. I had then been reading some material on the rise of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, beginning with the abduction of the daughter of the country’s Minister for Home Affairs, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in 1989. The thought of reimagining the incident occurred to me, and that became the starting point for the book. As I wrote, the plot evolved in a completely fictional manner.
How is The Viper different from your previous books?
It is my first fiction book. However, the previous two books were also quite different from each other. Portraits of Hindutva traversed the journey of the concept of Hindutva from the Harappan times to the present, ending with the Ayodhya movement for the construction of the Ram temple. It was only part political, but Baahubalis of Indian Politics, is a completely political account. It narrates the accounts of 11 musclemen who made it big in politics, explaining how and why they succeeded. Most of them come from UP and Bihar, while a few are from Mumbai and Jharkhand. All have had heinous criminal records to their name.
Who according to you will be the Baahubali of Indian Politics during the next Lok Sabha elections?
That is difficult to say. The ones that are already there will possibly remain key players. The system is such that it keeps throwing up new baahubalis. Often, it so happens that the old musclemen-politicians make way, not always willingly, to newer faces. Lesser-known figures acquire prominence.
Is the character of The Viper also inspired by someone in real life?
The character of the Viper is not inspired by any one person but a combination of the National Security Advisors we have had. And yet readers might find in him some characteristics that will remind them of the incumbent National Security Advisor. There are other characters in the book that have been also inspired by real life. But beyond those resemblances, everything about them is fictional.
How difficult was it to write fiction and reality in a way that did not offend anybody?
All books are a challenge to write, and fiction is no different. But the challenge was more in this case because it was my first attempt at fiction. Until now, I had been using published material to create narratives, but now I had to imagine the entire story. As for offending people, I don’t believe that any serious writer — one without an agenda — goes about being deliberately offensive. People’s sensitivities have to be always kept in consideration, but the readers left to their own do not react radically to supposedly offensive parts in a book. Many of them do so when they are instigated.
What message does the book give?
That nothing is impossible if there is a political will. In some ways, the book says ‘what could be’ in place of ‘what exists’.
Any Pakistani books or authors that inspired you?
I am not inspired by any Pakistani author or book. But I have referred to the Pakistani author
Ayesha Siddiqa and her books such as Military Inc.
What do you think about the Pegasus scandal in Indian context?
Privacy is important and we have laws to deal with that. Phone-tapping, for example, cannot happen just like that. There are mechanisms with inbuilt features that prohibit the wrongful use of tapping. As for the Pegasus controversy, there is right now more noise than clarity, and I would not like to take a position one way or the other until the facts are known.
What are you working on next?
I am co-authoring a non-fiction book with another writer. It should be out in mid-August next year. Hopefully, I should be writing another fiction, featuring The Viper in a new adventure.
- Book: ‘The Viper: When Its Poison Becomes an Antidote’
- Publisher: Garuda Prakashan
- Pages: 289
- Price: Rs 299
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