Read an excerpt from Devesh Verma's The Politician, a fast-paced novel about ambition, power and politics

The Politician's protagonist Ram Mohan is an intrepid and ambitious young man in newly independent India, who refuses to be held down by his humble origins.

Devesh Verma February 16, 2021 11:15:57 IST
Read an excerpt from Devesh Verma's The Politician, a fast-paced novel about ambition, power and politics

Devesh Verma's The Politician (Penguin Random House) is a fast-paced, electrifying political saga based in Uttar Pradesh. Having grown up there, Devesh writes candidly about the lawlessness and allure of power and politics that exist in the state.

The Politician's protagonist Ram Mohan is an intrepid and ambitious young man in newly independent India, who refuses to be held down by his humble origins. Spurred on by his diehard optimism, he aims for things usually inaccessible to people of his extraction. However, he soon realizes that without political or bureaucratic power, the idea of ​​a respectable life in India is nothing but pretence, and when Gulab Singh rescues him from being insulted by a thug, Ram Mohan becomes persuaded of the efficacy of violence in certain situations.

Beginning at the peak of Nehruvian era and ending in the early '70s, The Politician is an evocative view of provincial northern India — once the political heartland of the country — and the ebb and flow of the fortunes of its characters.

Devesh Verma was associated with TV journalism for over two decades before he quit to complete his novel. He received a Sahitya Akademi award for translation in 2004.

This excerpt has been republished with due permission from Penguin Random House.

***

For all his absorption in various activities, Ram Mohan’s longing for women never flagged. People close to him whispered about his ability to charm the quiet consent out of a woman. He first set eyes on Kanti, Deena’s mother, when she was a school girl of sixteen, whom he heard speak at a gathering organized to alert the Kurmis — people of the peasant caste — in the area to the challenges of changing times in the country. Her speech laid stress on women’s education — an issue Indians had regarded for centuries as settled. It was the year when the law minister BR Ambedkar was pitted against the whole gamut of forces hostile to his efforts to secure some rights for Hindu women. His proposed Hindu Code Bill was viewed as a wicked interference with the age-old Hindu personal laws of divine provenance.

Kanti had hardly any idea of the raging dispute. It was her father Baijnath who had prodded her into preparing a speech espousing the cause of women’s education. He was a retired military man and had served as a mounted soldier in the British army and was part of the army unit deployed in Paris during the First World War, where to his wonderment he had seen girls on the streets, with books in their hands, walking to schools, chatting and laughing. Inspired, he had resolved to have his daughters educated and to motivate others to do the same. Baijnath was involved in organising the gathering in question, during the preparation of which some young men of the area had come close to him, Ram Mohan being one of them. His education and manner of speaking had won Baijnath’s heart.

When Kanti finished speaking, Ram Mohan, who was busy looking after the arrangements, rushed towards the makeshift platform, looking for her. She was still on the stage, receiving praise and blessings from the chief guest, the chairman of the Legislative Council of Bihar, as Baijnath stood beaming at his daughter. She was short, slim and had an angular face with neatly defined features. She was attractive. She stayed with her father and one of her brothers in Kanpur, and the reason Baijnath stayed in the city with them was to ensure their education, especially that of Kanti who seemed most inclined. The rest of their family lived in the village as Baijnath, who had taken up a job as a court clerk, could not provide for his entire family in the city; some of his earnings also went into fighting the menace of child marriage among the people of his caste, some of whom he would take to court.

Kicking up clouds of dust, the crowds had more or less dispersed when Ram Mohan muttered, getting annoyed, ‘What was so special about her speech that they are fussing over her!’ Some people had gathered round him but he was not with them, and to avoid any forced conversation, he moved away and climbed onto the platform where a discussion was going on; the topic was the ongoing turmoil over the proposed Hindu Code Bill in the Constituent Assembly. Seeing Ram Mohan, the chief guest was reminded that he was getting late for a meeting in Kanpur, but as he manoeuvred to rise, Baijnath said, ‘I know you have other engagements, but we would be grateful if you could spare a little more time to this discussion.’ The chief guest settled back leaning against the bolster.

‘Most of the Hindus are not in favour of this bill,’ he said, and before he could elaborate, Baijnath who sat down crosslegged facing him said, ‘Ambedkar seems to be an educated man. Why would he want to do something which is not in our interest?’

‘Because Hindu leaders think he is subverting the authority of the traditions rooted in our sacred scriptures—’

‘But Ambedkar claims the bill has not strayed from the core beliefs of the religious texts. That’s what I heard on the radio,’ broke in Ram Mohan, having taken his place beside Kanti.

‘He says this only to douse the fire . . . Hindu leaders are not amused; they say he is stretching the obvious to the limit.’

‘What exactly does this bill entail?’ Baijnath asked.

‘I dare say it deals broadly with rights and status of Hindu women to whom it would give some say in matters concerning their interests. Like the questions of divorce and widow remarriage . . . their share in property . . . I don’t know the details yet.’

‘Ambedkar should be complimented,’ blurted out Baijnath. ‘Our women have been denied their due for centuries. It’s time we gave them a little freedom to explore their own possibilities in life.’

The chief guest was quiet for a second, and then glancing towards others, said, ‘But women have the most important role in the house and are held in high esteem for their dedication and sacrifice.’

Ram Mohan nodded.

‘I am not saying taking care of home is something to be ashamed of . . . but they should also receive education with our encouragement and support. There should be schools for them.’

‘This, I don’t mind,’ said the chief guest. ‘An educated mother can give her children a better upbringing.’

‘But this bill has nothing to do with women’s education,’ said Ram Mohan. ‘It’s about those so-called “rights” concerning ancestral property and divorce. It’s like offering a razor to a monkey, with disastrous results.’

The chief guest turned to Kanti, ‘You want to say something? Don’t shy away. Your father’s a courageous man; so should you be.’

Looking at her father and then Ram Mohan, she said, ‘We have had women who could hold their own against a general aversion to their attempting something . . . something other than what’s expected of them—’ Catching the sneer in Ram Mohan’s face, she stopped. Her father gestured her to go on, but she kept quiet.

Ram Mohan said, ‘Their number is so small it doesn’t denote anything . . . the number of such women, and they can be traced back to the beginning of civilisation . . . So what? Can they match up to men’s achievements, ever?’

‘I am not saying they can be on equal terms with men,’ said Kanti. ‘But I believe that given the opportunity, they can come out of their backwardness; there’s so much they can do to help men in their ventures.’ She fell silent again.

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