Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: THE OTHER MAN

Title: The Other Man
Author: Shashank Kela
Publisher: Juggernaut
Pages: 208
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Other Man by Shashank Kela is fiction that strikes such a realistic chord, it pains us with its intensity.

When the book begins, we see two men killed in an encounter killing. One of them, Shankar, born Roshan Ghandy, is a known Maoist, the other, a lawyer, Stephen Murmu, may or may not be, though he suffers the same fate. 

The scene of the encounter is Kakrana, state unknown, which functions as a kind of Every Place because the sort of injustice that takes place here is the kind that could fell people down anywhere.

Inspector Dayanidhi of the federal police agency is assigned to the case by his director. The official story is that the two prisoners were killed while they were trying to escape. But Daya is convinced that this is a deliberate killing, with political motivations.

His investigation is not welcomed either by the station officer responsible for the encounter, or the shadowy web of political and industrial characters whose financial interests are threatened by it. 

At the heart of the conspiracy is the mining company whose tentacles are spread wide through the land, touching people’s lives, and toying with them in equal measure.

It is ironic that the name Daya should be chosen for the protagonist who spends his time and energy diligently tracking down the truth behind the encounter killing. In real life, Daya Nayak was an encounter specialist, who was involved in over 80 encounter killings of members of the dreaded Mumbai underworld.

Here Daya is that rare commodity, an honest policeman who is at once realistic about real-life conditions and idealistic about his pursuit of justice. He is unpopular with his colleagues, self-effacing and a loner.

I liked Daya’s methods, how he succeeded in throwing his quarries off guard, the way he questioned people, the way he interpreted their answers, and his observations about the most random occurrences and events. It is not hard to see how well his background, his wide reading of Motaigne, Stendhal etc as well as of Tennyson, Robert Frost and Gerald Manley Hopkins have shaped his thinking. (If you can, do Google the Margaret poem by Hopkins, and interpret it in the context of Kakrana.)

The best part is that he does his job without any high notions about himself. When a character observes, “You take your job seriously,” he says, No more than the next man, I hope.

While Daya is a very significant character, the author also lets us into the lives of Shankar and Murmu, who we get to know posthumously through the accounts of those who knew them well.

Most of the important characters are unnamed, for instance, the station officer, who is referred to as the station officer throughout the story. But the author does give us the names of bit characters like Sudha K, Surab Singh M’ta, Sudhir Pathak etc.

The only part I didn’t like is the fact that the author did not give the antagonists a name. Perhaps it is deliberate, this understanding that names do not matter, that there are antagonists such as these in every scam and case afflicting our land.

The author writes from a knowledge and experience that comes of having worked as an activist in a trade union of Adivasi peasants in western Madhya Pradesh between 1994 and 2004. 

The wealth of his knowledge gives his book layers of authenticity and realism. The book is steeped in the stories of ordinary people affected and troubled equally by the Maoists as by the police and government machinery, their daily lives sad and miserable.

The writing is sparse, lean, economical. The dialogue crisp and crackling. It reminded me of the Pulitzer Prize winning pieces that whittle away the thin line between news and fiction.

The figures of speech were pointed and colourful. The word, encounter, fills Daya’s mouth with a metallic taste of ashes and aloes. When such accidents become too frequent, they remind him of a theatre of death with the props carelessly arranged.

Elsewhere, the author describes excavators as metal insects in a Martian landscape. He describes the patient grieving of the habitually downtrodden Murmu family as that stubborn tenacity which outlives anger or hope.

The author has reserved his most pithy observations for Daya. He says, For all our boasts of antiquity…we don’t like its remains: stone is quickly painted over, frescoes whitewashed, new shrines built to replace the old.

When it is not something that Daya says, it is something said of Daya: One forgets how dangerous an honest cop can be.

Elsewhere, It was his habit to gauge the amount of ‘influence’ that might be brought to bear upon an investigation should its direction prove unwelcome – much as an ox might gauge the weight of the load it is harnessed to pull.

To read this book is to imagine the scene playing out in your mind. Dry and sered, much like the arid landscape of an art film, where the truth isn’t pretty, and where the tortured reality never changes.

As readers, we learn of the conspiracy, the lies jostling with the truth, through the medium of the telephone conversations between the key persons. Daya is not privy to these revelations, of course, and so we watch as he comes to his own conclusions, struggling with theories that are plausible, but which he cannot prove.

The book ends, it seems, with no real closure. And yet that’s the extent of closure we are permitted. Those of us who live in India know how dangerously close to reality this is.

We get a sense of the futility of life, where people are killed for their beliefs, and where loyalties are bought and sold by the highest bidders.

It’s not often that I recommend a book that leaves me with a distinct sense of dissatisfaction. The Other Man, stark and blunt as it is, deserves a wider audience.

(I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of this review from Juggernaut.)

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Really great effort. Everyone must read this article. Thanks for sharing.



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