Bunker 13: A Novelby Bahal
A brilliant international thriller, set in contemporary Kashmir, about an investigative journalist, espionage, and the temptations of drugs, sex, and corruption in the Indian Army
Our hero, known as MM, is a pleasure-seeking journalist working for an upstart Indian newsweekly. He is also an ex–army cadet with political connections, able to secure/b>… See more details below
A brilliant international thriller, set in contemporary Kashmir, about an investigative journalist, espionage, and the temptations of drugs, sex, and corruption in the Indian Army
Our hero, known as MM, is a pleasure-seeking journalist working for an upstart Indian newsweekly. He is also an ex–army cadet with political connections, able to secure exclusive and dangerous assignments in the armed forces with the promise that he’ll write about his experiences. But MM has ulterior motives. Over a period of years he has been clandestinely investigating a source of corruption in the guerrilla war on India’s frontier: in the midst of skirmishes with the “Mossies” in Kashmir, the sale of arms and drugs—often back to the insurgents they have been seized from—is an ever-renewable source of profit.
MM hits the jackpot when a brutal border-patrol raid on which he is tagging along uncovers an emormous cache of both arms and high-grade heroin; but the goods in hand also provide him with a tempting brokerage opportunity.
Knowing, cynical, highly capable, and deeply motivated, MM is an intriguing new postmodern hero. His action-packed narration of his daredevil, drug- and sex-drenched dangerous life is world-class suspense of an entirely new kind.
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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- 6.34(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)
Read an Excerpt
By ANIRUDDHA BAHAL
FARRAR STRAUS GIROUXCopyright © 2003 Aniruddha Bahal
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou have soldiering boots stuck between your teeth so you don't maul your tongue. Major (Dr.) Sandy is lancing a blister on your toe at the turning point of your twelve-mile tab. The others have overtaken you. After fixing you up, even Sandy goes on ahead. You are left alone to pull up your boots, and you tense with pain as you dig your toes in and put some weight on them. You are increasingly feeling that you needn't have got into the shit you find yourself in right now, tabbing twelve miles with a forty-five-pound rucksack burning your back.
But out of the many ways that a Homo sapiens with an IQ of 130 can fuck himself at the flagging end of the twentieth century is by writing the following to his country's army chief: "Dear sir, With reference to our telephone conversation of a few days back, I am hereby forwarding a written proposal for your perusal. We at the Post would like to do a photo feature on the making of an Indian paratrooper: to put one of our writers through the course and see whether he can make it. In the competitive news environment we face, the treatment that we give to our feature stories is important, hence the rather offbeat request. But it's our sincere belief that the piece would be a great image-building exercise for the army and do much to bolster its own efforts to draw top-notch talent through its gates. Yours sincerely, MM."
The request was granted in February 1999, after you pushed hard and greased the army's public relations officer, who, an ex-9 Para himself but now an army headquarters memorandum expert, kept looking at you weirdly all three times you met him and asked each time, "Are you sure of this?" Of course you were then. If he had spelled out in vivid terms what you were getting into, you might have been a little less sure.
But now that your sorry ass is in, you plan to stick it out to the end, make your jumps even if you have a pound of blisters on each foot. You have your reasons.
Sergeant Major Islamuddin is really enjoying putting you through the paces. He thinks of guys like you as soft ass to regulate, show what a tough guy he is. Do some show-off. He is now coming back through the runners to see what's with you. He thinks you are regular army grade four.
"What's up?" he asks. "Running out of gas? You want to go back a week, repeat the whole fucking thing with the next batch coming in?" It's in Sergeant Major Islamuddin's interest to kick your ass through the fitness course before the army lets you even touch a parachute. Maybe that gives him some career motion. But the talk is, he likes only new faces in his basic fitness program. He doesn't like leftovers to fill in the new guys in advance about what a bastard he is. He likes them to discover for themselves.
You are not part of the regular 9 Para course, but the one they run for officers from other regiments, a kind of contingency reserve they have a policy of building up. That saves you all the 9 Para advanced hocus-pocus that you are convinced would send you straight to sick bay in two days flat. But even though they have condensed their drills and tabs into a diluted version of the big fuck routine they run on their own lads, it's still enough to screw your biocycle, give you a high-fatigue RPM.
What no one wants to do is have a second crack of Sergeant Major Islamuddin's fitness regimen, give him the opportunity to tinker with your biorhythm, reprogram it permanently with his 5:00 A.M. PT.
You get up and wobble along on the one and a half legs at your disposal, but then you say, What the hell, fuck the toe. You pick up speed and find you can move into higher gear because the pain isn't as bad as before. Major (Dr.) Sandy has worked some magic.
It's a different point altogether that none of this blister shit would have happened if Sergeant Major Islamuddin hadn't told you to stuff your Nike power joggers in your locker the first day of your hitting base. The army likes its boys in leather boots. Likes to give them a shot at stress fracture in their first fortnight of marching and tabs. The guys in your batch have been wearing them for years. You haven't.
"Watch out for tendinitis," one of your batch mates from 9 Jat Regiment warns you. "That's even worse than a stress fracture."
"What's that?" you ask him. "It sounds like a cow disease."
He looks at you with pity. "The muscles at the back of your ankles flame up from stretching too much. You be careful. I got it at the Academy. Got it in both legs. Couldn't walk for a week."
You don't know how to be careful to avoid tendinitis, but it's at the back of your head, so you try some fancy running steps that you think will keep you free from tendinitis. Then you get blisters instead. That's not as bad as all four of you, who are packed into this L-shaped army-hostel accommodation, taking off your boots at one go after a tab. Dogs, you read somewhere, pack a sense of smell that's a thousand times more sensitive than a human's. You are sure if a dog came sniffing in at that time, it would die.
For the last week, you have to attend theory plus practical. A two-day dose of airborne history precedes the technical stuff. You learn about the airborne brotherhood, the International Standard Organization one thousand mark that is the Red Beret.
The instructor reads out from his notes: "The Italians raised the first para force in 1928. In 1930, the Soviet Union formed its first battalion. In April 1940, however, it was the Germans who first opened the eyes of the world to the successful use of paratroops. Germany used her paratroops force, the Fallschirmjaeger, on Norway and then, a month later, in the Netherlands, with spectacular success.
"The Allied forces, particularly Britain, were quick to realize the potential of the paratrooper. The British set up their parachute training school in Manchester in 1940, after Winston Churchill called for the immediate creation of a five-thousand-strong para force. Within a year, an Indian parachute battalion was approved, and soon other Commonwealth countries followed. The Canadians followed suit in 1942. Although many of these para forces were started and trained independently, the unifying trait was the Red Beret emblem of the forces in Commonwealth countries. But this was just the outward sign of the bond that formed between paratroops of different countries as a result of combined operations during World War Two. The two most famous are the June sixth landings in 1944, part of the Allied invasion force, and Operation Market Garden later that year."
Here, Instructor Bhaumik hangs his reading spectacles around his neck and throttles his memory. He narrates for us the street battle of Arnhem, where the British 1st Airborne Division was ordered to capture and hold the road bridge over the lower Rhine for forty-eight hours. First, the British fucked up by air-dropping just half the task force on the first day, while chuting the rest too late in the battle. But they landed and found that intelligence fucked up even worse and that the forces whose defenses they had to smash through included an elite SS panzer corps. But in spite of having the SS nuts right up their asses, about seven hundred-odd men made it to the bridge and took on German tank and infantry attacks for three days and nights. Until finally the SS decided that enough was enough and that you couldn't let so few men keep bothering you for so long. So they chased the 1st Airborne from the burning houses they were holed up in. Instead of surrendering, the paras dispersed. After nine days of fighting, the 1st Airborne finally pulled back across the Rhine, 2,163 survivors out of 10,095 men.
The British parachute regiment, however, you hear, established its Red Devil lore in North Africa as part of the Allied 1942 offensive in Morocco and Algeria, where battalions were air-dropped to capture runways and road networks ahead of the ground forces, which were supposed to come later and relieve them. This, you learn, is vintage Airborne initiative.
But on one occasion at least, the ground forces forgot to link up with 2 Para, and the poor guys found themselves fifty miles inside Rommel territory and had to make a two-day march to join their own forces. Only a quarter made it.
The regiment also established an early reputation for botching up its drops. For instance, in an operation in Sicily in 1943, just three hundred-odd men out of more than eighteen hundred who jumped off planes landed in the drop zone. This allowed the three hundred-odd guys an opportunity to become heroes by defending the Primosole Bridge for one whole day. Instructor Bhaumik's historical erudition regarding the paras doesn't include telling you why the bridge was important for the Allies to hold for a day. Maybe they couldn't find enough whores around the bridge for their officers to bounce before retreating.
While the British have just an airborne brigade, the U.S. airborne freaks have an order of battle that contains the 82nd Airborne Division, the mechanized infantry division, an armored brigade, an antitank air cavalry brigade, and the 101st Air Assault Division.
The 82nd Airborne Division, of course, are the designated out-of-area motherfuckers who first took on this role on D day at Normandy. With about seventeen thousand nuts on its rolls, the 82nd also packs enough wing power in C-130s, C-5 Galaxies, and C-141 Star Lifters to lift and deliver their load of nuts at any point on an atlas. They train at Fort Benning, Georgia, and take up their dates on AH-1S Huey Cobras, which you can mount TOWs on.
But if the U.S. parachute forces dwarf the British, the Russians are in a league of their own. They are quantum motherfuckers. The Vozdushno-Desantnyye Voyska is more than 100,000 strong. If NATO does something really pissy, the guys are going to chute down in Western Europe behind enemy lines and riddle French and German ass with 73-mm hardware, the AT-4 Spigot antitank missiles, the 120-mm self-propelled 2S9 guns, and whatever thing handy they can mount on some turretless shit called the BMD M1979.
The reason they will be running into the French early on is because part of the brief of the French paras is to go save German ass if the Russians come paying a visit. The French airborne strength in the 11th Parachute Division is about fourteen thousand strong and is based at Tarbes. That includes the 2 REP from the French Foreign Legion, which carried out the assault on Kolwezi in 1978. These elite motherfuckers have about four companies of elite assault paratroopers. They are so elite, they don't talk to civilians.
The unique aspect of the French paras is that they have undertaken more operational jumps than any other para force in the world. They have seen action in Indochina, the Suez, and Africa, particularly Algeria. The French campaign in Indochina saw them make 156 operational drops, culminating in the historic jump in the valley near Dien Bien Phu, where General Giap's Vietminh took the French out of the battle and eventually out of the region in 1955.
In 1957, the French paras returned to combat. This time, the 10th Parachute Division took over the city of Algiers and restored order within a month. But the force received a setback by involving itself in the attempted overthrow of General Charles de Gaulle in 1960 and has been looked upon with suspicion ever since. Yet it produced two very striking generals in Jacques Massu and Marcel Bigeard. The latter's appearance at Dien Bien Phu did much to raise morale in the beleaguered garrison. The trademark that distinguished him from other generals was his habit of arriving to inspect units by parachute, his hand at the salute as he landed in front of the honor guard.
The Indian para strength is modest by comparison: a token force of nine battalions, with a total strength of 5,500 men. Of the nine para battalions, 1, 9, and 10 are para commandos and have most recently seen action in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, but the 50th Indian Parachute Brigade was formed way back in 1941 and saw action mostly in Burma and the North East. The Gurkhas were the first Indian troops to wear the para wings. When para forces were still in development, the British found it easiest to sucker the Gurkhas into jumping.
The 152nd and 153rd Gurkha parachute battalions saw magnificent action against the Japanese at Sangshak when they were on their way to Imphal. Bearing the brunt of the flanking attacks by the Japanese on the retreating 14th Army, the batallions gained time for the garrison at Imphal to reorganize its defenses.
Later, the brigade distinguished itself in the British efforts to recapture Rangoon from the Japanese. The paras jumped over Tawhai, south of Rangoon, to clear Japanese coastal defenses on the Rangoon River to make way for the Indian 26th Division, which headed upriver under the amphibious operation code Dracula.
After you are through with theory (an area in which you intend to take an unassailable lead over Major Rodriguez, with whom you have a bet to top the course), they herd you into landing practice. You learn to touch ground in a dozen different ways. The standard position-elbows tucked in, feet and knees together, and legs loose like box springs-has the potential to save you from all but the heaviest of landings. But since army-issue chutes are nonsteerable, giving you scant control over the direction of your approach, you have to learn how to land forward, sideways, and backward, bucking with the way the wind brings you down. You are told never to break your S position. The army has even developed laid-down procedures for fuckups you can see coming, like hitting a church wall. It wants you injury-free for the screwball mission it sends you on. It teaches you how to reduce impact. It teaches you to avoid frontal collisions with stationary objects. It's better, they tell you, to bust your ribs than to smack your face on concrete.
For two hours, the parachute-jumping instructor (PJI) makes you do about forty parachute rolls from any angle he hollers out. Next to you, Major Rodriguez whispers, "Hey, MM, what about a dick landing? Do they teach that, too? What could happen to a guy like Islamuddin on an emergency dick landing?" That, you agree, is a tremendous theoretical point of concern. Islamuddin has an organ the size of a forty-pound dumbbell. Your stick of ten men saw it once when Islamuddin put you through compulsory showers to build comradeship.
But you refrain from responding to Major Rodriguez for fear of attracting the PJI's attention. You are familiar with the major's unscrupulous tactics. For Major Rodriguez, there are just two categories of the living-players and fucked-up eggheads. Major Rodriguez fancies himself a player.
Excerpted from BUNKER 13 by ANIRUDDHA BAHAL Copyright © 2003 by Aniruddha Bahal
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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John Williams' review in the Guardian says it all: "Imagine Catch-22 rewritten by Hunter S. Thompson." Oh, yes. Bunker 13 is a box full of crazy. Not only is MM (the antihero protagonist) a corrupt, debauched sociopath, but so is everyone else around him, no matter their station in life. Bahal's take on Indian society -- government, the media, the military, the police, and any other institution you can name -- is breathtakingly cynical and dark, dark, dark. Everything and everyone is for sale and all things can be done with the right grease applied in the right place, especially if (like MM) you're a lunatic. Hunter Thompson comes into the equation with the staggering quantity and variety of pharmaceuticals consumed by most of the characters in numerous atypical ways, such as during a military paradrop. None of this is to say there's no merit to the story. To the contrary: the shenanigans and the sheer force of MM's personality and his devious schemes pulls you right along from one you-gotta-be-kidding situation to the next with just enough time to catch a breath in between (usually). MM is an unquestionably unique character, with so many layers of deception that anything seems not only possible but likely with him. At times the firehose of prose requires you to simply soak in the words and get the gist when you can. Ultimately, this is a book to be admired rather than loved. No matter how open-minded you are, you'll find something to offend you or gross you out, or perhaps both. This is M*A*S*H on meth, Catch-22 on a bad acid trip. If that thought appeals to you, dive right into the insanity.
Once you get pass the idea that this is India,and some of the expressions art new to you the books goesinto high speed with great twists and turns
In ¿Bunker 13¿, there is a sense of fear and crispiness as you read along the escapades of Minty ¿MM¿ Mehta from Delhi to Kashmir to Moscow and back again. With neo-clamminess, Aniruddha Bahal¿under the influence of Ken Kesey, J. D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac¿has finally stepped into genuine hot shot territory and ¿Bunker 13¿ is, in no mean terms, an on-the-face inescapable work of military fiction. Whereas, military is only a politically-correct and euphemistic identification of ¿Bunker 13¿, militancy and fanaticism are the parallels for the authorship of Bahal. ¿Bunker 13¿ comes at a time when Bahal is under special-context trial, according to news media reports in Bombay, for claiming, through doctored videotapes, that Indian defense military officials, bureaucrats and ministers alike, are corrupt and bribable. That was through the conception of Operation West End, published on the now-defunct and literally sensational tehelka.com, but this is ¿Bunker 13¿, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. There can be no questioning, thus, the inherent value of the content here even though Bahal comes from a snazzy, questionable and subjectively enviable background of legal gewgaws with the Union of India. With kinky sex and acid as the last words that flash the grey matter, ¿Bunker 13¿ is a class apart from the other summer reads of the City.