Book title: The Muddy River
Author: P.A. Krishnan
Price: Rs 250
The Muddy River is P.A. Krishnan’s second novel and the English version of the Tamil novel Kalangiya Nadhi. It is a metaphor used by the author to tell a true story in which he was involved, through the protagonist Ramesh Chandran.
The story is set in the 1990s, when the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) kidnapped an engineer of Power Grid Corporation of India Limited. P.A. Krishnan, executive director (vigilance), in the public sector company, was tasked with negotiating with the militants. For the next nine months, Krishnan was on the job, shuttling between Delhi and Guwahati and travelling the length and breadth of Assam, before securing the release of the engineer.
Like the real story, the plot, too, revolves around the separatist movement in Assam.
The novel subtly reflects the nexus between rebels and the affluent bureaucratic class. The protagonist Ramesh Chandran is an honest and upright scholarly Tamil bureaucrat, who gets sent to Assam to negotiate the release of one of his department’s engineers, who is kidnapped and kept hostage by the militants. He struggles with the militants, the Delhi bureaucracy and the Assam police to get his man released.
The tempo of the climax is well developed as Chandran himself ends up carrying the ransom to the extremists in exchange of the hostage. He also unearths a scam within his company that makes him a target among his seniors and also pushes him to the brink of suspension.
The narrative is gripping, while the plot is refreshing.
The novel can be termed as political fiction that is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. Right from the Kafkaesque bureaucracy compounded with corruption in high places, the price an honest officer has to pay because of his honesty, the alienation of Assam from the rest of India and the violation of human rights and moral standards by militants have all been well brought out in the novel.
Refreshingly, though Chandran believes in Marxist principles, he imbibes the Gandhian values that prevail in his life and the novel is clearly an endorsement of Gandhi’s methods rather than Marx’s.
The story moves forward in the form of a narrative and the manuscript written by Ramesh for his book, but it does not confuse the reader between the real and the fictional.
The language is illustrative with elements of an epic narrative.
The Muddy River is a complex and multi-layered narrative that blurs the boundaries between the narrative and the narrator, victim and victimisers and keeps the readers guessing till the very end.
All in all, the novel is an interesting read, as it holds the attention of the readers till the very end and allows them to go back to it again for its subtle nuances and underlined meanings.