Lal Salaam; Author: Smriti Zubin Irani; Publisher: Westland, Pp 254, Rs 399.00
closed-door academic discourses
A trait that is common among all politicians is their love for storytelling. Their days are filled with interesting experiences and anecdotes. Not all such storytellers can, however, write books and fewer still can write an engrossing one that feels like a web-series. With her foray into fiction writing, former actor and now Lok Sabha MP and Union Minister Smriti Irani has added another feather to her cap — that of an author.
Her debut book Lal Salaam is an action packed thriller that revolves around Vikram Pratap Singh, Superintendent of Police, an honest officer and an idealist posted in Chhattisgarh. It begins with an attack on a CRPF convoy in Ambuja district, a hotbed of Naxalite-Maoist activities. This claims the life of sixty nine personnel and an officer, taking Vikram Pratap Singh on a quest to bring the perpetrators to justice. In the process, he realises the mess in which Ambuja is, with the complex and interwoven interests of Maoists, businessmen, politicians, journalists, and the police. The book keeps its readers hooked for the most part. Various twists and turns in the story reveal how layered the characters are, without making any final, definitive conclusions. However, a few conversations in the book sound like they’re out of a Bollywood potboiler, making them very predictable.
Many parts and characters were reminiscent of those mentioned in Maoist’s Urban Movement, a commentary published in 2013 by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA). I had to repeatedly tell myself that this is a work of fiction, and resist looking up some of the characters online. Despite this, what is commendable is the restraint the author shows in not letting her views colour the story. More importantly, she avoids the urge to preach.
Irani has great clarity on the idea of the book and why she wants to write it. In an Instagram conversation with entrepreneur and fashion designer Masaba Gupta, during the e-launch of Lal Salaam, Irani says that the book has been in the making for over a decade now. She specifically talks of a television debate after the 2010 terrorist attack in Dantewada on the CRPF convoy where seventy six personnel were martyred and mentions a TV panelist 'who was extremely disrespectful and nonchalant’, someone who said of the forces that ‘they wear a uniform, (and) they know they have to die.’ She says this ‘rattled and enraged’ her; in a way that she channelised this rage into fiction, to talk about the issue of Maoist atrocities that had deeply impacted her.
Lal Salaam is a work of fiction but it will give real-world insights into the life of a cop and a Maoist, details that are complicated and multi-dimensional which remain confined to closed-door academic discourses. The book borrows intricate details from real-life characters and presents them in a lucid manner, pushing readers to think about Maoism and its motives.