SPIES AND LIES

India Today - - LEISURE -

Spooks are gen­er­ally at­tracted to the spy genre as it pro­vides a nat­u­ral ba­sis to learn the trade. I per­son­ally never dreamed of be­ing a spook, even af­ter I joined the In­dian Po­lice Ser­vice, which pro­vides the reser­voir for the In­tel­li­gence Bureau. Yet even in my school­days I was at­tracted to ‘thrillers’—Edgar Wal­lace, Peter Cheney, Agatha Christie and John Buchanan. In col­lege, I grad­u­ated to Ian Flem­ing’s James Bond se­ries. The open­ing lines of his first book, Casino Royale, are se­duc­tive enough to make you want to read the whole world. No one since has de­scribed the at­mos­phere of a casino bet­ter than Flem­ing.

Af­ter join­ing the ser­vice, I took to read­ing spy sto­ries when­ever I could. My favourites were Eric Ambler, Len Deighton’s Ber­lin Game, Mex­ico Set and Lon­don Match tril­ogy, and of course, John le Carre, who should be com­pul­sory read­ing for all in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers. I read his mas­ter­piece, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, three times. The renowned poet John Fen­ton’s in­tro­duc­tion to Eric Ambler’s Epi­taph of a Spy re­minded me of my first meet­ing with the chief: “Don’t for­get—if you do well, you’ll get no credit, and if you get into trou­ble, you’ll get no help.” An­other of our chiefs was wont to say: “A cat has nine lives—in the In­tel­li­gence Bureau, you have just one.”

In real life, the story of the Cam­bridge spy ring, or more specif­i­cally, Kim Philby, the spy who be­trayed a generation, is un­beat­able. Philby re­mained a mys­tery to the ut­ter end, fool­ing not only his friends in the ser­vice but even his wives, lead­ing one of them to re­mark: “No one can ever re­ally know an­other hu­man be­ing.” When the British Se­cret Ser­vice fi­nally learned of his be­trayal, they sent his friend Ni­cholas El­liot to in­ter­ro­gate him in Beirut, hop­ing that would en­cour­age him to de­fect.

Spooks write the best spy sto­ries be­cause they have been inside the cir­cus. Un­for­tu­nately, very few In­di­ans ven­ture into the spy genre; re­tired in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers tend to keep aloof from writ­ing. Re­cently, Lon­don-based jour­nal­ist Mi­hir Bose, bet­ter known for his History of In­dian Cricket, has writ­ten a fas­ci­nat­ing ac­count of an In­dian se­cret agent of World War II, Bhagat Ram Tal­war, co­de­named ‘Sil­ver’. Dur­ing my ‘Bharat Dar­shan’ for my book Kash­mir: The Va­j­payee Years (2015), I was ac­costed by a lady in Chandi­garh who en­quired what my next book would be. In­stinc­tively, I replied “a spy story”. And who knows—Kulb­hushan Jad­hav may just pro­vide the sub­ject for such a story—‘The Spy Who Never Was’.

(CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE) IAN FLEM­ING, LEN DEIGHTON, ERIC AMBLER

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