Former intelligence officer Prabhakar Aloka attempts to describe the life of a spy through his new book “Operation Haygreeva”
According to Prabhakar Aloka, there isn’t a lot of glamor in actual espionage. No vodka martinis, shaken or stirred. No luxury cars. No cool gadgets. No women wearing dresses with plunging necklines and thigh slits. No gambling. In other words, actual espionage is a far cry from what you see in Bond films.
Aloka knows this because he served the Intelligence Bureau for over three decades. When he retired two years ago, he wanted to tell people what goes on in the lives of real spies. So he wrote a spy thriller, Operation Haygreeva (Penguin Random House), based on real life cases he worked on and his experience in espionage. The book tells how Ravi Kumar and his team at the Intelligence Bureau try to neutralize the threat of a terrorist organization.
âEspionage is a conundrum, which people see in different ways – like a cap and dagger operation, like Big Brother watching or as rogue element activity,â Aloka explains. âSpies are shown to be cold and calculating, but they are also human, with emotions and conflicts. I wanted to convey this.
Why a spy thriller instead of a memoir, where he could speak directly about his experiences? With most of her work classified, Aloka couldn’t have gone into it in detail. âPlus, non-fiction can’t bring out the psychology of a spy who leads a faceless life. He is part of society but must take on a different character. And this character can be psychologically disruptive at times. For example, we have all been taught not to lie and not to deceive. A spy must do these things. These aspects stand out best in fiction.
Spy fiction writers generally find research as difficult, if not more, than developing a plot. In Aloka’s case, the research was almost useless. Building a story, he admits, was a challenge. He was into Hindi literature in school and college and a fan of the works of Ramdhari Singh Dinkar; English literature was more of an acquired taste. He only started writing towards the end of his career. Despite all the details, it took him about two years to come up with a story. He started the book in 2019 and wrote during the pandemic before finishing it this year.
âI wanted to describe the psychological conflicts of a spy. People think espionage is all about intelligence and information. However, there are many external lures and pressures that can derail a spyâs job. Even if they are successful, there is no public recognition. If they fail, everyone is talking about an intelligence failure. The only thing that keeps them alive is the commitment to alleviate suffering.
âIn a way, espionage is like a dangerous game of chess. Each movement has a series of social, political and diplomatic ramifications. It took some time to put all of these things in the right words.
Advances in technology, he says, have made a spyâs job more complex. âThe Internet is a spider’s web; you don’t know where it ends or starts. It is therefore more difficult to find information now. ”
One of the things that high-octane Hollywood spy thrillers don’t show off is office work, which Aloka says is as exciting as working in the field. âYou solve puzzles in the office all the time. Often you don’t have all the parts. Still, you have to make sense of things with whatever is available. If I have to reduce it to the point, a spy’s job is to unravel deliberately hidden facts. So we like to do that. Office work is never boring.
Operation HaygreevaThe protagonist of, Ravi, has two sons and a dog, just like Aloka. Is Ravi just a pseudonym of Aloka? âNo,â he laughs. âHe has a bit of me, my coworkers, and qualities that I think an ideal spy should have. Ravi is more like my alter ego.