This book was sent to me by Bloomsbury India in exchange of an honest review
For love and Honour is a heavy title. It predisposes one to expect great things from the pages that follow. Plus, when you bring in the very tantalizing prospect of an Army Officer as the main protagonist you have effectively hooked an army brat into reading the book with unbridled enthusiasm. So, if it falls short even by a little bit here and there, it leads to major disappointment. I loved the almost neon yellow background with the stark black illustration of a gun filled in with flowers (or are they tea-buds) – suitable accompaniment to the title it seemed.
The story kicks off with a battalion of army officers and soldiers moving out on a mission against Mizo insurgents while the rest of the country is hooked on to the final moments of the 1983 Cricket World cup. Our main protagonist Captain Mehra and his senior on the mission Major Rahul Schimer get separated from their platoon while jumping off the plane and what follows was altogether an incomprehensible and baffling turn of events. Whether Mehra was concussed or just too drunk on his youth is a little difficult to glean, but his actions at that point lead to him getting his hand chopped off and Schimer shooting down insurgents – one of whom turns out to be a long lost (forgotten?) childhood friend.
By the end of it, Mehra is out of the army as a result of his disability and has been carted off to a tea estate owned by a friend of his obliging commanding officer to take up the post as security officer, while Schimer has begun a slow, unnoticed but steady slide into depression. Mehra already begins to lose his sheen as the army officer one has in mind. Instead, he comes across as someone with hardly any idea of what he is doing or why or even what repercussions he may have to face for his actions and his inability to understand his own limitations and shortcomings.
Mehra lands in a tea estate that is beautiful, looks peaceful enough, has a benevolent old master who in turn has two pretty daughters. The estate manager is the extremely taciturn and hostile Norden. The love triangle that follows is so filmy and so monumentally disappointing that it is painful to even recall. Mehra behaves more like an adolescent with raging hormones instead of an army officer with some sense and decorum. Within a couple of days of arriving on the scene he has bedded one sister, and declared undying love to the other. It is excruciating when a man tells a woman he has ‘always’ loved a her 5 days after meeting her and 3 days after sleeping with her sister.
The Schimer storyline is actually more interesting, although it is not explored in as much depth as it should have been. The author took the bold step of bringing up a piece of history I had never heard about and was completely taken aback by – the air strikes at Aizwal in 1966. I wish he had concentrated on that bit a lot more than the filmy romance. Schimer’s response to the death of a long lost childhood friend also seems too severe at times. But then he is portrayed as the silent, brooding type of person and maybe that explains it.
The author’s writing style is actually very suave and sophisticated, but I wonder whether he actually set out to make his main protagonist as unlikable as he eventually turned out to be. Schimer embodied the ‘Honour’ part almost to the tee, but Mehra’s contribution to ‘Love’ was a complete letdown. In all honesty, I suppose that any non-army-associated readers would maybe like it much better since they will not be weighing the actions of the main protagonists with innumerable other young men in uniform, for there is no question in my mind that an army man is a breed apart and is expected to behave as such at all times.
Also, are we considering stories set in the 1980’s as Historical Fiction now?? Comes as a bit of a shock to someone who has been reading historical fiction set only in or before the regency era.