The word passed into the English language, a four-letter cosh of a word that the hoodlums of East London adopted thinking it was exotic. ‘Thug’ from the North Indian ‘thugee’ or deceiver. The deceivers were men armed with scarves who strangled their victims, supposedly in honour of goddess Kali. Their centuries-old existence was rooted out by William Sleeman in a relentless hunt across central India, which is where Siddhartha Sarma’s book begins.
The first chapter is deceptively quiet following the slow pace of village travel in India, until it erupts into carefully orchestrated violence. Sarma does not use the word ‘thug’ until the very end; his deceivers are ‘Phansigars’, men with nooses. This carefully researched book straddles fiction and nonfiction, because it deals with the character of a very unusual Englishman who resisted returning to England.