SPIES AND LIES
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