Meghnad Desai is no ordinary fiction writer. He is a reputed economist- he taught at the London School of Economics for forty years-he is a keen observer of British politics and participates in it from his perch in the House of Lords. He has written a number of books on Economics and many other subjects but his first novel, a sensitive political shocker, is a chilling portrayal of the decadent governance culture of our times. From all aspects his novel is outrageous, perhaps very close to reality and India which has largely adopted the Westminster system of democracy may be too close to the scandalous political narrative of the Dead on Time. Desai is both “rudely disrespectful” and “effective in puncturing hollow euphoria and ballooning egos’ of the political class.
A novelist has the unbridled liberty to let his imagination fly wild as long as he is able to carry his reader along. There is no morality in politics. No holy cow. And hypocrisy reigns supreme. Unlike the other celebrated politician novelist Jeffrey Archer, whose tour-de-force of the craft is a pleasant carousal of the British Parliamentary practice, Desai with his riveting account takes one to the messiness and mucky machinations of realpolitik. And with great flourish he takes pot shots at the bogus idealism and façade of social service our leaders put on to manipulate public opinion. Is the reality of the political system so nauseatingly immoral?
Harry White, young, “disturbingly” handsome and immensely popular Prime Minister of Britain, is a compulsive womanizer. His wife is busy with her theatre, a fad she has cultivated at the expense of the state. But she was helpful during her husband’s days in the opposition to manipulate the weak, infatuated Leader of the House to help her hubby’s political career. The PM’s rival in the party and the number two in the cabinet is an incestuous paedophile, and before the scandal was to hit the headlines thanks to the devious shenanigans of his long time rival media magnate, he dies of heart attack in a far away pub in Greece. The prime minister was enjoying a foot ball match in the company of his new conquest, a junior secretary in his office, Sarah. There is the megalomaniac media lord, Matt Drummond, who has been funding Harry’s political ascent, now asking for his pound of flesh. The prime minister is almost certain to concede to save his skin. The plot becomes murkier with a college mate, whom Harry had long forgotten seething with an old revenge of losing his girl friend who committed suicide after being ditched by Harry. The jilted lover is out to poison and take Harry’s life. All this in the backdrop of the Old Firm game between Rangers and Celtic, the traditional Scottish rivals. Politics takes Harry to Glasgow- he has no interest in the game- there breaks out bloody riots all over the city between the Catholic and Protestant fans as their teams battle for supremacy on the ground. All these breath taking events are unfolding on a single day which makes the story racy and unputdownable. A conspicuous aspect of the book is its overdose of sex as if politics is a licence for adulterous living.
This gut wrenching novel in fact proves Desai did not have any rule book to fight against. So he could pull out all stops. The eloquent spun of words authentically capture the agony of a cornered politician. All he wants is time and he has plenty of money to buy that commodity. You come across very interesting characters like the half Chinese, half Indian barrister Asha Chan, who is hooked to the tycoon, his editorial team with its sanctimonious humbug about family values and the reporter turned political adviser to the prime minister, Oliver and many others. It is fast paced and piping hot stuff. Full of passionate intrigues, devastating pen portraits of politicians, and skillful expositions on the “Euro mega boredom” on endless debates on olive in EU conferences on trade. A heck of a good read.
(HarperCollins Publishers, A-53,Sector-57, Noida, UP, Pin-201301, India)