In Shashank Kela’s devastating debut novel The Other Man, two Maoists are supposedly killed in a police encounter. But when Inspector Daya discovers the corruption and deceit of the shadowy world where politics and business meet, things go terribly awry. ‘As gripping as it is urgently contemporary’, The Other Man is a peek into how things work in India:
Daya stubbed his cigarette out. ‘Do you know,’ he began conversationally, ‘that there’s a proposal to outlaw smoking in public places? Other countries have laws like that apparently… When I think about it, I’m torn between my approval on principle and my predicament as a smoker. Not to mention my sovereign right to poison myself if I feel like it. They say one should give it up and they’re right – cancer is no joke – but personally I’ve never felt any inclination to try.’
The station officer blinked.
‘When did you arrest them?’ Daya went on amiably.
‘Who?’ the station officer asked, confused by the sudden change of subject.
‘These two.’ Daya tapped the file in front of him.
‘I arrested only one of them.’
Daya consulted his notes. ‘You mean Stephen Murmu?’
‘Murmu was picked up first, Shanker later… Tell me about them.’
‘Well, Shanker’s arrest – that’s not his real name, by the way – was something of a coup. He was the highest-ranked Maoist we’ve captured in these parts. The other man was a born troublemaker–’
‘What were they charged with?’
‘Hold-ups, extortion, murder. There was an ambush in which a policeman was killed some years ago – it happened in Kakrana… With Shanker we didn’t need much evidence: his position spoke for itself. As for the other man, I had an informer’s report tying him to the ambush. Obviously we never got to the stage of filing a charge sheet in court…’
‘You keep saying “the other man”. But he has a name.’
‘Sure,’ said the station officer indifferently. ‘What difference does that make? He was a Maoist.’
‘Shanker was a Maoist too.’
‘That’s different…he wasn’t a savage, he was educated.’
‘Like you and me?’
‘You perhaps,’ the station officer said maliciously. ‘But not me…not everyone is lucky enough to go to university.’
‘You think so? It seems to me that almost everyone in India goes to university – even waiters and taxi drivers – but to very little effect. What about Stephen Murmu? Was he educated?’
‘He was a lawyer.’
‘So he was educated. What made you suspicious of him?’
‘He would appear in court for Maoists we picked up. Sometimes a lawyer came down from the capital, but Murmu did all the actual work.’
‘That was his job surely.’
‘To defend Maoists? I don’t think so. We have lawyers more patriotic than that. They wouldn’t touch those cases…’
‘Maybe that’s why Murmu took them. What else?’
‘He was involved with an outfit that went around stirring people up against mining…it claims to be peaceful but everyone knows it’s a front for the Maoists. He’d go during the day to make speeches in villages where they’d come at night…a dangerous man, a born troublemaker.’
‘I’m talking about evidence…’
Daya consulted his notes again. ‘Shanker’s real name was Roshan Ghandy, is that right?’
‘An interesting coincidence,’ Daya remarked. ‘I suppose he didn’t want to spell it the same way.’
‘Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi.’
‘Ghandy, Gandhi… how the hell does it matter?’