‘Death Districts of the DP Government’, he suggested for the headline. There are no doors in Ichalganj, Nazar began his story. Once, that was because no one wanted anything more. Now, it is because no one has anything left.

I began reading the book slowly, deliberately because I thought death never likes to be hurried into any commitment. I knew the book will be full of death… but what I did not know at that time was that the book was full of the death of the weird silence of opinion that the common reader generally has of political machinations and destructively devastating social tactics of people in power! With every page read I felt a surge within me… a surge to get up and do something to help rid the nation of actions and powers that are sucking it dead. Yes, this is the sort of effect this book will have on a reader… the sort of effect a viewer has when a fiery character on the celluloid screen exhorts the fearful and the disenchanted populace to an awakened roar!

The book has a modern-day gladiator called Gangiri. He is not even there in Gopur and is slowly going away in a life that he has slowly created for himself… a life that he wishes his brother and his family share with him. But they are in Gopur. The story is about how the suicide of this brother and the inevitable decision of the Government not to classify it as a farmer-suicide and thus not give any compensation pull in Gangiri Bhadra back to his village… and thrusts him into the heart of a battle where politics and journalism meander through his life sometime resuscitating his flagging will and sometimes throwing him back into the heat and grime to suffer. Yes, the story is about a ‘fragile crop, a resilient debt, a delicate life, a tenacious disease.’ The story is also about a village that is destined to live in the memory of a reader for a long time…

The great banyan at the lake, the market at the centre, the temple at the entrance, the hillock at the end. Which feature wanted him to stay back in Gopur?

Or was it the people? The greetings of the farmer, the trader, the priest, the teacher. Who was conspiring to keep him in Gopur forever?

Kota Neelima, the writer of this book, has created characters that come alive though you know they are just words on a paper. But hey! Who said they were just words in a book? The writer works as a Political Editor with The Sunday Guardian and has her facts convincingly injected into the characters. None of the character jumps out of the book to pounce at you in an unrealistic way… they are too real and that is what is so frightening about this book. The characters are just too real.

This is one book where I started loving each of the characters… even if some were despicable and worthy of all the hatred I could have heaped on them. Even Lambodar ji, with his seemingly sagacious theories about the suicides is someone you cannot just hate. So what if what he defines as the truth, is nothing but a pack of justifications meant to keep his political masters happy ans safe. This is what he says for Gangiri’s brother, Sudhakar:

The truth was, Keyurji, he was not a farmer. He was a dreamer,’ Lambodar said, his strong face melancholic. ‘And he failed.’

As a reader, you immediately understand and see through the way suicides were being shown to be anything but farmer suicides. Somewhere in the background was, obviously, the statistics that the MP from that part was more bothered about. No wonder then, that even Daya adds that ‘it is one of our findings that if the compensation is suspended, there will be no incentive and the suicide figures may actually decline.

The book begins with a few journalists being invited to the MP’s house… a move that was planned to diffuse any unnecessary vitriolic outpourings in the media with farmer suicides as the main protagonist.

Ah! Another little facet I loved about this book is the way journalism has been dissected for the reader. We have Girish telling Nazar that ‘there is no one out there reading your story. There is no one who will take a step because of your story. It is just a numb, self-absorbed world that is slowly consuming itself, from light to darkness, from darkness to darkness.’ Girish also ‘gave Nazar a brief lecture on the stupidity of reinventing the wheel just because of seniority and argued in favour of beaten paths that led to great destinations.

I am talking about these insights in journalism because the ethics of journalism and politics are closely interacting throughout the book. Nazar is told that ‘access to people is of no use if you cannot think like them…’ which is a rather valuable tip for those who wish to understand journalism… despite any form of disenchantment that a journalist may wallow in at times:

‘I thought journalism would be different, but it is not. I find myself out of place even here if I do not chase money, power and fame. I only wanted to be a part of opinion-making, I wanted my words to contribute to action that brings about change.

But the book isn’t a treatise on journalism… it is about ‘the opinions of people he did not respect, however powerful or influential they may be.’ I am talking about Gangiri again. As the action unfolds, Gangiri manages to become a part of the suicide committee that gave the verdict on whether a ‘farmer’s suicide was ‘patra’, or eligible, or ‘apatra’, or ineligible for compensation.’ He realises, however, that it is never easy to change opinions through force.

The answer, he tried convincing them, was not violence or punishment, but reconciliation.

This book is about problems and resolutions too. That is why, right in the firat few pages of the book we find Nazar, the journalist, telling Keyur, the politician: ‘Gangiri Bhadra is the solution, if you are committed to resolving this, Keyurji.

So why did I choose to write ‘Gangiri Bhadra was the solution’ as the title for this review? You’ll find the answer in the book…

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Book Details:

Title: Shoes of the dead
Author: Kota Neelima
Publisher: Rupa
ISBN: 978-81-291-2396-1
Price: Rs 495/- (in 2013)

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Arvind Passey
11 June 2013