July 25, 2020
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Following The Dirt Track

About the messy bits of Delhi’s ruling class, the political chicanery and the games that emerging political parties play for the sake of power.

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Following The Dirt Track
The Honest Season
By Kota Neelima
Random House | Pages: 365 | Rs. 299

With the election to five states just over and now eve­r­­yone already in campaign mode for Uttar Pradesh, senior political journalist Kota Neelima’s The Honest Season seems appropriate reading. It’s fiction that offers realtime news. It is about the messy bits of Delhi’s ruling class, the political chicanery, newshounds on the prowl and the games that emerging political parties play for the sake of power. And no one seems to emerge the better. Even media org­­an­isations, committed to exposing corruption in political parties, defence deals and business opportunities, seem to be actua­ted by their vested interests.

The story is the chase set up—at once private and public—by Sikandar Bansi, a young politician who has entered politics the easy way, thanks to the dynastic role played by his father in politics in PP, or the People’s Party. He is an idealist who turns whistle-blower. He goes into hiding and releases a series of tapes that have had him perform a series of six sting operations—all crushing exp­oses on members of Parliament, party heads and leaders. They expose the many corrupt deals within the government and political parties, including the party he belongs to, and which is led by his father. There is Nalan Malik, the new and rising party member, operating outside of the dynasty, but with a bigger hunger for power, holding out a promise for change.

Neelima is a journalist and the material for her novels seem to spring from her work. It makes her fiction believable.

Neelima’s protagonist is Mira Mouli, a journalist who is a lonely, death-haunted figure with a damaged past. At a time when the internet and new forms of technology are changing the way we consume news, Mouli and her colleague Salat are introduced as traditional newspaper journalists with special powers: They are “know-journalists”, with a capacity for perception far beyond the analysis and fact-searching processes. Mouli fiercely gua­rds her privacy in this age of the internet and comes with an extraordinary capacity to read the minds of people and an ability to divine the truth through a thicket of obfuscations. This is a skill that makes her a target and an accomplice. The drama unfolds at pulp fiction pace, with the thrills coming in the form of the dance and chase that involves Bansi and Mouli in the catch-me-if-you-can trail. The bits about agonising over love and affection are probably meant to add juice to the proceedings. But given Mouli’s self-imposed decision to not get close to anyone, it seems a stretch to have her sway to the machinations of two men.

Neelima is a journalist with over two decades’ experience and the material for her novels seems to spring from her work that makes her fiction believable and contemporary. Neelima’s first novel, Riverstones, was set in Delhi, on governmental apathy. Her second novel, Death of a Moneylender, had focused on the plight of farmers, their exploitation at the hands of moneylenders and the state of agriculture in India. Shoes of the Dead was on drought, material she got familiar with during her dirt-track reporting on farmers’ suicides, especially in Vidarbha. If reports are to be believed, it is being made into a film by Tamil director Vetrimaran, who won the national award this year for Visaranai.

The Honest Season too seems to have sprung from Neelima’s journalistic sto­mping grounds. From sting operations to the many defence deals, the scramble for prominence within political parties, caste and communal politics, state-sponsored violence and the many machinations in Parliament, the book touches upon many socio-political ills. A careful reading can even offer clues on contemporary inc­idents and the people involved therein.

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