In his debut book Operation Johar: A Love Story, author and columnist Abhishek Banerjee walks us down the memory lane of left-wing terror in the newly formed Jharkhand. Having grown up in Ranchi himself, the book draws elements from his real-life experiences of preparing for competitive exams while being surrounded by Naxalites. While the book is fictional, the characters seem so real because in today’s day and age we have long crossed the threshold of fact and fiction.
There are four main characters: Somu, a teenaged boy preparing for his IIT entrance test, Sangeeta, Somu’s neighbour and a doctor whom Somu has a crush on, Jatin, a JNU student-turned-‘revolutionary’ and Sangeeta’s boyfriend and Rani, the Naxal terrorist who lives in the forests of Jharkhand. For those who have been following the Indian politics and the rise of left-wing terror, the characters, which also seem inspired from real life people, the book reminds us how deep-rooted these terrorists masquerading as intellectuals are in the academicia and media.
The characters evolve nicely, especially Somu, who is smart for his age and a keen observer. Rani is intriguing, rustic and silently dangerous. Jatin’s character is a weak villain, as in he is not evil from the start. He is easily inspired by other people and that is where his flaw is. He believes certain ideology not because he believes in it but because people around him believed in it. This comes out toward the end where he is thinking of English books he liked to read but didn’t accept because the ‘party ideology’ didn’t agree with it. The book brings out the hypocrisy of the leftists, who would oppose development because when ‘someone has too much of something, they take some of it and make it theirs’.
Drawing inspiration from real-life incidents and people, like the destruction of the Dholkal Ganesha in Chhattisgarh, Sabarmati Express carnage in Gujarat in 2002 and The Professor who radicalises youth who reminds us of a Delhi University professor who is serving jail term for left-wing terror activities, the book leaves you wanting for more.
Here is an excerpt of the book,
To Dr. Sangeeta, the night had never seemed longer. On a regular shift, things would wind down by 3 am, leaving her to look out upon the night through her office window. The mahua trees that outlined the darkness were her favourite. She had planted all twelve of them herself as a little girl waiting for her future. All grown up now, they would make gentle companions for her through the night.
“Why do people so fear being alone with their thoughts?” she would wonder.
On some nights, Sangeeta would bring along some warm milk. She would sleep until the cool morning breezes filled her little office room.
But tonight, Sangeeta was filled with a sort of mechanical sense of being, one that seemed to require no rest. She had been awake for well over twenty hours now, but couldn’t get herself to wind down. It was like being on the inside of a clock that would not stop ticking.
The crowd of people and the sea of police uniforms. The silent mourners. The booms of the gun salute. Sangeeta had seen one of the bodies. The forensics had done a good job of sewing it back together.
Amitabh Kumar had a sister, who lived abroad. It was she who had flown in from Europe to light the fire that would send her brother on his way to eternity.
“Vande… Mataram! Vande… Mataram!” the echos had risen to the sky followed by cries of “… amar rahe” and “Bharat Mata ki… Jai.”
Sangeeta’s fingers were holding a pen. She found herself tapping it furiously on the table. She felt for the heavy glass paperweight and spun it around sharply, setting off a dull ring.
The faces of the two young boys came back to her. The younger one was sobbing weakly, while his brother just stood there in a daze. Behind them was the old man in the crumpled white kurta who seemed too weak to stand but was still clutching them tightly.
Operation Johar is a fast-paced, unputdownable book and highly recommended. You could buy it here.