THIS novel begins with Nikhil Arya travelling on the train to Delhi, when an eight-year old boy points out to his mother that Nikhil, once an Ivy League scholar with a promising future at NASA, has only one arm. The mother admonishes her child for his rudeness but Nikhil explains to the child that indeed he had lost one arm to gangrene in the war at Phnom Penh, Cambodia where he had “spent the most dismal time of my life. Not because I hadn’t seen worse after, but because I was young then. I was twenty-two. I was invincible.”
Now at 40 years of age he is broke, homeless and minutes away from blowing his brains out in a diabolical modern-day joint.
Nikhil remembers the time when he and his friend Sam after graduating from MIT decided to undertake a trip to Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. Seeing Sam’s excitement over the journey, Nikhil even did not bother “to gather any information about our destination and I found myself tense with excitement at the randomness of the journey.” He knows nothing about Phnom Penh, but thinks that like other strange-sounding names of places like Bangkok, Istanbul, Marrakesh, Ulaan Bataar which gleamed “with the promise of hidden mysteries and undiscovered wonders,” Phnom Penh would be the same.
On disembarking from the plane, both he and Sam learn that the civilian government had been overthrown by the communist rebel army, the Khmer Rouge in a coup a day earlier. Nikhil had no expected things to be this way. An innocent vacation now turns into an epic intercontinental journey where Nikhil becomes first a genocide survivor, then a Buddhist monk, a drug lord, a homeless accountant, a software mogul and a deadly game fighter. Now, 20 years later and at the age of 40, Nikhil does not want to go running here and there. With the Columbian mafia on his trail and his abandoned wife and son 10,000 miles way, he prepares for his final act, conscious of the fact that he will lose even if here to win. Or will he? Is there any greater victory than living a life that knows no limits, a world that has seen no boundaries? This book has to be read to find the answers.
(HarperCollins Publishers India, A-53, Sector 57, Noida, Uttar Pradesh-201301; www.harpercollins.co.in)