Monday, August 8, 2016

Chain of Custody - Anita Nair

Anita Nair's second novel in the Inspector Borei Gowda series, 'Chain of Custody', is a worthy successor to the first 'Cut-Like Wound'. It's disturbing - and that's a word one wants to experience in a crime thriller that is centred around child trafficking in Bangalore. Disturbing is a good word, and I think we as a nation need it, to be shaken out of the stupor we seem to have landed ourselves in. Anita brings the reality out of the streets and into our homes and hearts, and I feel that all readers of this book will  be a bit more aware, a tad more sensitive and proactive after reading the novel, towards children and the fragile and vulnerable world they live in.
Harper Black, 308 p, Rs. 350
Inspector Borei Gowda is someone we empathise with a bit more this time. We live with him rather intimately - an intimacy that one feels with a live-in partner. One can sense him (half here, half there in his own private world), really know him and that's a huge achievement really, to get the reader to feel that level of intimacy. We aren't as judgmental as we had been last time about him and his unconventional ways, and we are fine with his blurred-at-the-edges, yet persistent ways. So Borei and his philandering and obtuse manner is less of a distraction this time - and we can focus on the story.

Into the not-so-quiet world of Gowda comes an inconvenience - his maid's school going daughter is missing - and the maid is distraught naturally. These are not good times so everyone fears the worst. There is another parallel string - of a man called Krishna who is ensnaring young runaway children into child trafficking. Children from Bombay, UP, Bangladesh, Odisha find their way into the ring of prositution and slave trade in Bangalore. There's a mysterious thekedar, a rich lawyer looking for a good time, a greedy boy friend, a girl friend who needs pocket money to shop, youngsters with drugs in their rucksacks, violence, greed, lust. All in the world we know well - malls, schools, colleges, hotels, railway stations, airports.

Borei Gowda has to solve a murder, find the missing girl and perhaps link the scattered leads. Will he be able to do so in time, against so many odds?

'Chain of Custody' keeps you on the edge - that is what it is supposed to do - and it does that job well. Beyond that it makes you feel the rage and disgust when it rips open the infected undersides of society we live in, a frequency, a question, an act, away from our own world. You smell, sense, hear and feel the people and places and live them as Anita guides you through the horror, switching on the light, when you don't want to see. There is much research she has done and one wonders at how she goes into these dark aspects that not many would venture into. It's not easy to read, for its brutal starkness and directness, so it must have been difficult to write. Visions will remain after the book is read and that is a good sign for any creative work.

Borei Gowda and his bunch seep through into our souls a bit more. We accept him now with all his flaws and his imperfect endings - there are no fully happy endings - until it all ends finally. (He is now ready to get on screen I feel.) Anita's rage is apparent and she uses it in a controlled manner and lets it simmer. That energy holds all through, keeps it taut. Once in, its a novel difficult to put down.

As a racy story 'Chain of Custody' does not let you down. It grips and entertains. But more than that it educates. I don't think I will be able to look away from young kids who are by themselves at bus stations, railway platforms, traffic signals - I would certainly wonder if they were a Jogun, Barun, Nandita, Moina, Tina or an Iqbal. I would look around to see if there is a Krishna or a thekedar around. That is the greater impact the novel has on the reader.

Well done Anita. The effort, research and intent shows. The skill, as always, shines through.

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