On my frequent trips to bookstores, I always saw books written by Anuja Chauhan but never bought a copy. I believe it was because a part of me had lost faith in the contemporary Indian literary scene. However, after a friend gifted me a copy of “The Zoya Factor”, I couldn’t put it down. That’s when I knew. I knew that I was going to buy an Anuja Chauhan book. A trip to the bookstore later, I came out with the recently released copy of “Baaz”.
Set under the backdrop of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, “Baaz” is the story of Flying Officer Ishaan Faujdaar and model turned journalist Tehmima Daddyseth (or Tinka, as she’s fondly called).
Ishaan (or Shaanu) is our hero in the book. All he’s loved since he was a child was the sound of his heart going dhook dhook which led him to become a flying officer. A short, good looking man who lives for an adrenaline rush, he’s committed to the IAF uniform and sees things as black and white. Either you go to war or don’t, either you win or you lose. He is also called ‘Baaz’ because of the way he flies like an eagle.
Tinka, on the other hand, dislikes all that Ishaan stands for. Born and partially brought up in the US, she’s done an advertisement in a bikini (quite controversial for the time), she stands up for what she believes in and openly dissents the idea of war. It takes a lot of courage to stand up against a huge majority and challenge their ideals.
As someone who was also brought up in the US for a few years, I found Tinka’s character quite relatable. There is still a slight identity crisis that exists even after being back for a long time. When people say that the way you speak is ‘fake’, when you feel like you don’t truly ‘fit in’ and when they blame your ‘American upbringing’ for having thoughts and ideas different from them. The complexities that come with being a phoren return were also handled so well in the book.
While “Baaz” is a typical romance using the standard ‘opposites attract’ formula, there is still something special and raw in the writing that doesn’t make it too cheesy and boring.
Perhaps, it is the courage that brought Ishaan and Tinka together and created a magnetic attraction between them.
The writing in Baaz is light and fun with frequent Hinglish words thrown in, which made me feel that the conversation was happening right in front of me rather than inside the pages of a book. It sets a tone in the initial chapters, but then things speed up and I found myself racing through the pages, desperately trying to find out what happens at the end of the war, and what happens to Ishaan and Tinka. While reading through the pages, there were brilliantly written one liners and witty nicknames given to characters that perhaps, were a result of all the time Chauhan has spent in the advertising industry. And, since we’re talking about the technicalities of this book, I must say that she’s made the best of being raised as an army child. Seven members of her family were serving in the armed forces during the ‘71 war and she definitely utilized her sources well to write this ode to the forces and the cantonment life that she grew up in, herself.
What I found most enticing about the book were the characters, and how well rounded all of them were, even the supporting ones. Presenting Tinka as Ishaan’s foil worked really well for the book in terms of their relationship with each other and also in order to present the sides of war and peace.
Their characters represent how our society is divided into nationalists and the ‘anti- nationals’, which is quite prevalent these days. One is glorified until the end, while the other is abused just for having a different opinion.
“Baaz” is a book that you should pick up when you feel like escaping from the real world for a while. With this book, I’m convinced that Anuja Chauhan is definitely one of the good writers when it comes contemporary Indian literature. And I guess I need to make up for all the times I passed by the aisle that had her books.