Smriti Zubin Irani
Smriti Zubin Irani

Smriti Irani introduces her debut book 'Lal Salaam'

A political thriller set in the backdrop of encounter killings and gruesome murders

Seasoned politician, former television actor and producer Smriti Zubin Irani recently made her foray into writing with the release of her debut book. Lal Salaam is a gripping thriller about the challenges faced by a young idealistic law enforcer in a system steeped in backroom politics and corruption. Inspired by the tragic killings of 76 CRPF personnel in Dantewada in April 2010, the book aims to highlight the daily plight, conflict and dilemmas that confront people in India’s poorest and most troubled regions.

While the starkness of the book and its subject is sure to surprise many, given that it is coming from the nation’s Minister for Women and Child Development, Irani mentions in the book’s Acknowledgements that the story, which was triggered by a TV debate, has been raging in her head for over a decade.

With the plot crystal clear in her mind, it took her all of eight months to pen down. “There have been exceptional officers who have given a lifetime of service to the country, especially in confronting the challenges in the red corridor,” she writes.

When Darshan Kumar, the deputy commandment of the CRPF battalion posted in the Maoist hotbed of Ambuja village in Chattisgarh is brutally murdered, his childhood friend and fellow officer SP Vikram Pratap Singh is tasked to track down Darshan’s killers.

The worst sort of punishment posting, Ambuja ranks last in the state on every major quality-of-life parameter. Poverty, crime, illiteracy and unemployment are rampant in this “hellhole where demons are born and dreams go to die”.

Further, Singh realises that the Maoist attack on Darshan along with the CRPF contingent of 69 other personnel was planned—and made a deliberate spectacle in order to send out a message. Being the best investigator with a track record of cracking supposedly impossible cases as well as an outstanding reputation for integrity and impartiality are still not good enough attributes for Singh to handle the complete breakdown of law and order in the state’s most infamous district.

However, Singh is determined to go any length to bring the men responsible for Darshan’s vengeful death to justice. Despite his struggle, everyone around him seems to thwart his efforts as well as frame him given the slightest opportunity.

Moreover, there is a series of shocking murders that takes place—all those people whom Singh has closely interacted with. His fleeting romance with a firebrand journalist, Devika Doria, is also tragically cut short. The deaths all seem to be mysteriously linked, with each having one thing in common. At the scene of every crime, the killer uses his blood to note down a single phrase: Lal Salaam.

With her debut novel, Irani does a thorough job of navigating the murky world of the police, courts as well as the country’s law and order in general—possibly owing to her experience in representing the constituency of Amethi in the Lok Sabha and previously Gujarat as a member of the Rajya Sabha. Along the way, the story also makes references to the oppression faced by poor tribals.

It’s a tribute to the exceptional men and women who have given a lifetime of service to the country, especially in confronting the challenges in the red corridor. At the book’s recent launch event hosted by the Jaipur Literature Festival, Irani said that she writes not to bore. This book, which could easily make for racy viewing as an OTT film or series, certainly proves so.

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The New Indian Express