The Phoenix: Bilal Siddiqi

The Phoenix by Bilal Siddiqi is a fast-paced modern thriller narrating the story of an Indian intelligence officer stuck in adverse situations. The story which starts with an encounter in Southall London in the year 2013 has a triggering effect, progressing through time, continents, and cities while only aggravating the seriousness of the scenario. Aryaman Khanna, an erstwhile intelligence officer is sent to the Lakshadweep high security prisons for breaching protocols during the encounter in 2013. An encounter which not only made him lose his friends and mentor,  but also saw him stripped of duty.

Fast forward to seven years Aryaman is still efficiently armed with his knowledge of service, but is unaware of the doom which lurks towards his family. He also reflects on his only child with whom he shares a restrained relationship. On release he has a feeling of self-doubt reminiscing if there ‘was any part of his old self still there . . . . .to recognize?’ but is determined to go back to his wife and son and reconcile for the lost years.

But trouble starts when a seemingly hit-and-run case claims his wife, Jyoti’s life – except that she is a successful journalist who was working on a top –secret story, powerful enough to get goons after her and to shake the secure foundations of a Nation serving millions of people. Here begins Aryaman’s journey back into the world of intelligence and espionage with the help of his ex-colleague and friend Randheer. Now it is up to him to not only avenge his wife’s death and protect his family but also to serve the Nation that had once refused to believe in him.

From the bazaars of Turkey to the luxury of Thailand, from the aridness of Pakistan to the serenity of London – a vortex of revenge so spun against the people of India, it is hard to imagine that it can ever be done. Siddiqi needs to be commended for merging the pieces of the puzzle so smoothly that they weave into a compact story. The Phoenix has several central themes,  starting from the working of the Indian intelligentsia to the psyche of the families of those working as intelligence officers.  Relationships – friendship, love, parent- children, forms an essential part of the storyline and almost gives it the right push to take it forward.

What The Phoenix accentuates through the narration is a weapon of mass destruction lurking over millions of people in India. This makes it very relatable to the contemporary condition of the country and the world which is almost in a state of Biological warfare with the Corona Virus; the only difference is that Siddiqi’s antagonist tries to make use of the same for personal revenge.

The Phoenix resonates how Dumbledore introduced one to Harry and-is personified by Aryaman. Having had a very fruitful career he is sent into the flames of high prison but resurrects seven years later to heal himself and the world due to the emotional blow that he receives. Aryaman may appear tough but is equally understanding, caring, and loyal. His loyalty towards his friend Randheer, or his continuous effort to try and mend his relation with his son, depicts that he is one of the fewer remaining officers who have true emotions left in him, but do not allow these emotions to take the better of him. He is still as prompt in planning, quick in understanding the enemy’s motives, and daring yet careful in his stances. His repeated mention of his mentor reveals how grateful he is of his late mentor.

It is interesting to note the way Siddiqi has used the role of the digital sphere. With the pandemic, the world is going through a digital revolution, at the same time he has exposed the darker side of this platform. How everything is digital and yet hidden, messages are bare yet coded, top secret missions are planned in broad daylight sitting in different parts of the world , yet difficult to crack by the cyber surveillance.

A gripping tale with ensemble characters and one truth- No One can be trusted, The Phoenix is successful in capturing the attention of the people. Definitely recommended, should you have a taste for contemporary thrillers.

No. of Pages: 228

Publisher:  Penguin India

Available at: Flipkart/ snapdeal/ Amazon

Rating: 3.5/5

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