A Time to Burnish by Radhika Nathan
A Time to burnish by Radhika Nathan is a romantic thriller in the backdrop of art and antiquities theft. I earlier read ‘The Mute Anklet‘ by Radhika Nathan – it was a story set during the times of Tipu Sultan. This time, Radhika Nathan takes you through the history of Chola bronzes. Her story is more of a crime thriller but it is the romantic angle that takes the center stage for better part of the book. All the women who grew up with the Mills & Boons kind of romantic ideas would enjoy reading this a lot.
It’s the story of an antique Chola bronze sold to a museum in London. The curator – an American sends his brother to Chennai to track the back story of the idol. He suspects the story sold to him by the seller of the Chola Idol. The brother reaches Chennai. He is guided to the various Chola Bronze sellers in Chennai by a young friend of the curator. What follows is a double layered narrative.
One layer of the story leads to the Chola history – the story of bronzes and the relevance of them in the lives of the ancient Tamil population. There is a connection established through music and chants. The story moves from London to Chennai to Thanjavur and then to small villages where the Stapathis or the sculptors live. I would hold back what the climax is and how the truth unfolds. Rest assured it is a nice trip through the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu. A trip down the memory lane through the forgotten temples and temple treasures of Chola period.
When I visited the customs museum in Goa, I learned that antiques are an all time favorite item of smuggling community. This story kind of re-enforces that and brings forth how it is done. How the old antique artifacts are smuggled out of the country disguised as modern art pieces. It brings to you the ancient techniques of metal casting – something that is shared by the classical artisans of Cholas and the folk artists of the tribal population like in the village of Ektaal in Chhattisgarh. I knew most of what the author wanted to say, but I guess an average reader would have some insights into the world of metal art and the art lovers.
What I wanted more was a logical end to this layer by bringing out the whole chain of art trafficking. A lot has been left to the reader’s imagination. While the Indian side of trafficking is explored to an extent, how does it work across the seas has been totally left out? Some loose ends if closed would have made the story very crisp and compete.
Another layer, of course, is a romantic track between the American security expert who is in India to help his brother. It amuses me that he is able to put a spyware in someone’s phone in a matter of seconds. Nonetheless, he brings in the cutting edge technology angle to the story. Vidya, his brother’s friends, whom he falls in love with during this adventure. The chemistry between the two characters is exciting. Their relationship path is on expected lines but still, evokes curiosity. The one-liners exchanged between the two lead characters are witty.
The third character Tom the curator at London museum binds them through a direct relationship with both of them. Other minor characters are well etched. You get the feel of Chennai pretty easily through the narrative.
The language of A Time to Burnish is simple and the narrative is nicely paced. You start thinking along with the characters. There is an uncanny need to supply too much information on Tamil culture which I think could have been toned down.
Overall, an interesting read.