'Master O' Review in Corporate Tycoons (magazine)
Photo: Akshay Shintre
Imagine you are driving to work, cruising along NH 24 when just ahead of you surge thousands of elephants “like a sea of blackness from which their trunks rose like waves”. You are witnessing a riot of the Ibharis, a highly evolved AI network.
Set in the not too distant future in the National Capital Region and animated by characters we can easily recognise (except the Ibharis), Dhiraj Singh’s debut novel Master O fills the gap for Indian titles in the futuristic section of our bookshelves.
Master O is a fascinating composite in which a clutch of people, their stories, their memories, their dreams, their secrets criss-cross in a fluid past-present-future continuum. Overlooking—or controlling?—them are the Ibharis, the highly evolved elephant morphs.
The narrative starts with Master O. With his silver hair and beard, and white robe he could be a simple godman, but he is different. He has special gifts. He can be in more than one place at a time. He can “read” people and talk to them in their heads. The gifts help him create a worldwide empire of which he is the supermind. But his gift of multilocation is breached.
Ake (abbreviation of Ake-aant), a popular TV show host, is an ardent disciple of Master O, whose book The Goat Blanket changed his life. His disruptive TV interview with Master O catalyses the plot.
When Ake is spirited away, a group of twelve seemingly disparate people receive almost simultaneously videos with embedded alogorithms that allow two-way conversations with Ake. They do not know, but the “Akeians” are chosen from millions in the city because they have something in common.
Sashimi is the driving force among the Akeians in their search for the TV host.
Also, it is to her that Master O turns to voice his fear that his special gift had been breached. They then set off to search for Ake and arrive in the future to finish a business unfinished in the past.
Another disciple of Master O, Bagga Aunty, is the 72-year-old Minister of Emotions, who takes over the reins of government when the Prime Minister is assassinated. She had witnessed as a child the birth I-42, the first successful genetically-modified Ibhari created by her father in the secret Blue Lab.
I-42 is most unlike an elephant. He has the soft pink skin of a newborn and under his silver eyelashes are blue eyes. These eyes can see far into the future and the past, and look into the thoughts of anything that moves. Dr Bagga believed he had created an elephant with special abilities. He would not know that his creation had surpassed them. I-42 is a fusion of God, Man and Animal; he is Vajradhara, the Buddha of Lightning.
The Ibharis seek revenge for all the wrongs they have suffered at the hands of Man. But Master O, who they choose as intermediary between them and the government, believes that they are “more sinned against than sinners”.
Strangely, they both share the same ability to enter people’s minds, to read them and deliver their own words and stories to them. They both have “crossings”. Master O’s discourse is not about religion but about crossing, “like parents teaching their children how to cross the road”. While the Ibharis have crossings or migration paths made by the first animals millions of years ago and which continue to be tread today. What links—or opposes—the two is a riddle.
Although they are caught in quantic time-space warps, the characters remain very real. Sashimis and Sukmas can be found sipping rejuvenating teas at a rooftop café. Bagga Aunties can be seen climbing the greasy pole of public life. Akes, handsome TV hosts, can be seen probing into people’s lives and making them squirm during interviews. Master O in his white gown and silver hair is not an unknown figure.
The book is cinematographic; it reads like a film. One can almost hear the clapperboard between scenes. Take the stepwell scene. A wide shot of the surrounding walls and steps then zooms to the blue tiles and arcs to reveal the beautiful intricate, geometric patterns.
The location descriptions are vivid. Piru’s Rooftop Café in the present overlooks a riverfront with “a tunnel of genetically mixed red-leaf trees”, looking like “a giant coral snake”. In the future that Sashimi visits shortly afterwards, the towers look like “bent and gnarled fingers of a giant statue that was buried below”.
Master O is a novel that takes us out of our humdrum reading. Philosophy fuses with science, making us reflect. But the narrative also intriques us with its riddles, its recurring images like the bridge—Ake’s, Lissie’s, Missarky’s hanging bridge, bridges in the sky—semiotic echoes in the different stories.
The book leaves us asking for more. Fortunately, it contains enough elements for a sequel.
Review link HERE