This novel is a political thriller, a brilliant thriller and a frightening parable of our time – The Dispatch
Chandan Pandey’s novel “Legal Fiction”, originally published in Hindi under the title “Vaidhanik Galp”, has been translated by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari.
The novel follows writer Arjun Kumar, who travels to the town of Noma on the UP-Bihar border after receiving a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Anasuya. The reason – Anasuya’s husband, Rafique Neel is missing. When he arrives, he discovers that the locals are determined to make it a case of “love jihad” and soon Arjun realizes that things are not what they appear to be.
Told with psychological acuity, skillful prose and inspired by real events in today’s India, “Legal Fiction” is a brilliant existential thriller and extraordinary fable about the world we live in.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
The town was less than a kilometer from the police station. He seemed lost in himself. Everyone seemed busy with something. Besides the many makeshift kiosks in the streets, the town’s first store was an electric sawmill, the noise of which could be heard from afar. The city was populated immediately after the mill. Sahadeo must have felt uncomfortable with the growing silence inside the car, so he said, “Sir, Bihar starts right after this settlement. “
He must have been familiar with this place and that’s why he called it a “settlement”. I called it a “city”.
“What do you mean by ‘Bihar starts from here’? “
“It’s a smugglers ‘and criminals’ paradise, on this side and on this side too. If a new police chief arrives on either side of the border, the disbelievers cross.
I didn’t say anything but laughed at this creative use of borders. Had Anjan Agarwal used the same technique to his advantage? The thought was a distraction and it caused me to look outside the car. There were a lot of signs and banners jostling each other on both sides of the street. Each palisade was perhaps twenty-five to fifty yards apart. One of them advertised various Big Bazaar discounts, but in blue and not in the sparkling red that had become associated with the point of sale. It wasn’t until we drove past that I noticed the ad was for Bigger Bazaar and not Grand Bazaar. It was a great imitation. Directly behind it was a fence for a computer repair shop that read in big letters: “A computer doctor, now in your town.” The ad copy was filled with medical jargon. In fact, in the upper left corner of the fence there was even a photograph of a man wearing a white doctor’s coat standing next to a computer screen.
The next picket fence had a random assortment of bright colors, and I couldn’t quite make out it. But after two or three more, it became apparent that the people whose photos were on those signs were all the same. At the top, there were ten or twelve photos without any name. I could only recognize Swami Vivekananda. To his right were photos of the Prime Minister and other Union ministers. The text had been stacked left and center. A hoarding announced a pilgrimage to Kailash-Mansarovar. “Chalo Kailash! – Let’s go to Kailash! – the big guy called. A huge image of Lord Shiva was printed next to it, with the Ganga sticking out of his wicks. To the right of the god, almost as tall or perhaps taller, was the photograph of a young man whose whole manner seemed calculated to express humility and sincerity. Under his photo, typed in yellow letters, was his name and official function: “Amit Malviya – President, Mangal Morcha”.
The choice of colors could make one wonder if the banners had not been put in a hurry. But the order in which they had been placed revealed that this was not the case. If the call to pilgrimage was on the right side of the street, the same sign was also on the left – the same size, the same color, the same characters and the same text. The coordination was perfect. Even the signs that were put up right after repeated the message. Whoever had done this clearly didn’t want a single person passing down the street to miss him.
A bhandara – a religious holiday – has been announced on the next hoarding. It was similar in type and color to that of the Kailash, so it wasn’t hard to guess what it was saying. As the car approached, I saw that the feast would last a week. The same photos have been printed on the top, starting with Swami Vivekananda and ending with the Prime Minister. But while Lord Shiva dominated the previous one, here it was the goddess Annapurna. The designer had been clever enough to add the deity’s name, since she was not as popular as Shiva. Two photographs were printed to his right: one of Amit Jain – treasurer, Mangal Morcha, and the other of Amit Malviya. These panels were also laid out in the same way: front-back-right-left, four in all.
The next hoarding heralded a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi and Amarnath. If you ignored the many photos, it looked like the cover of an old T-series album.
The next one announced a private university. The letters “BL (D) U” were printed in large letters and the name followed in parentheses, “Baba Lakarnath (Deemed) University”. Photographs of two boys and a girl, all three in ceremonial costume, were placed next to it. I couldn’t say if they were college students or professional models. The girl wore a collarless shirt, while the boys wore ties. The ad stated that admissions to courses such as Management, Hotel Management, BEd, BSc, MSc, BCom, MCom, BA, MA, etc. were about to close soon and reserve a spot ASAP. A phone number had been listed for inquiries, and in the corner to his right were small photographs of two men. The word “Principal” was typed below one, with the following name in a very small font. Or maybe I couldn’t read it because there was so much text on the ad already. The other photo was of an older man with a beaming face, and underneath were several college degrees and awards. The rewards seemed to be literary, but our car had already passed the fence before I could read its name.
There was a traffic jam ahead. Everyone had crammed their vehicles wherever they could find space, and now several cars were stuck on both sides. An Indica stood to the side. The front wheel of a rickshaw is pulled out to the right. Everyone honked relentlessly. Anasuya looked at the chaos. Thinking that this might be an opportunity to start a conversation, I asked, “What kind of traffic jam is this? Then, “Does this happen every day?” “
She answered my two questions laconically: “I’ve never been around here.
As I was wondering whether to continue the conversation, Sahadeo changed the subject and said that this is where the smugglers pay the toll tax. “A government checkpoint intervenes after crossing the Gandak River at Mehrauna,” he said, “where vehicles carrying legal goods are checked. But in Noma, the tax is paid by the smugglers. Oil, cattle, and sugar all come through this route, and you have to pay to take out or bring back every sack of sugar or head of cattle. The prices are quite high these days. It is the gateway to our state.
He had started to irritate me with his stories, so I asked him to shut up. There was no point in believing what he was saying.
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