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‘The Death Script’ review: Strangers in the land: The life and death of Korsa Joga

Maoists in Chhattisgarh traditionally have a bigger market, which they are possibly unaware of, in the publishing industry or South Asia studies departments globally than in Chhattisgarh, where they have not been expanding for some time. Many Ph.D.s are penned or manuscripts submitted each year and very few are readable.

Ashutosh Bhardwaj’s The Death Script is refreshingly different. A journalist who worked in Chhattisgarh, he provides detailed anecdotes of his encounters with the police, paramilitary forces, informers and left-wing rebels. He has followed certain characters and describes particular phases in their lives that intertwined with his in Chhattisgarh.

Multiple journeys

But the book is not just about Chhattisgarh or Maoists, it is also about the author’s multiple other journeys. For this reviewer, who worked as a journalist around the same time in Chhattisgarh, it was difficult to understand why events which are not connected to the conflict are featured, perhaps because of a training to look for facts.

For example, following a graphic description of how a dozen villagers were killed in a place called Sarkeguda in south Chhattisgarh, the author moves to Benares to talk about his chance meeting with a woman, which is a sad story but not connected to the incident in Sarkeguda. But then as the reader moves on, perhaps the connection becomes apparent.

The author looks at the river and thinks of the colossal waste of life in Chhattisgarh. “As I stare at the ravenous apparitions of burning pyres floating over the Ganga, my sins come back to haunt me,” he writes. It is unusual as books on Chhattisgarh are usually about a lot of violence and conspiracies. While The Death Script has its share of blood and gore, it often takes a detour to talk about a stray frog or a chance meeting in Benares.

Stories from Benares

Possibly there is a reason or two for these digressions. Conflict reporting is often about body counts and it could be a pointless exercise unless the reader, who may be far away, is connected. Stories from another world, Benares in this case, which is relatively free of violence, is required to keep the readers connected.

On occasions, he digs deep to explain the severe hurdles a tribal woman or man faces when she or he tries to leave the arduous life of a rebel to settle in the cities as a civilian. Korsa Joga, a Naxal commander, after making many attempts to move away from conflict finally returned to the forest to take up arms, albeit for the forces. The story of the commander, narrated over six pages, indicates why rebels often decide to stay in the forest despite looking for avenues to escape.

What however one may miss — especially from Bhardwaj, who investigated many important stories in Chhattisgarh (particularly ones about paid journalism or Maoist surrenders) — is an investigation of the source of Maoist funding or the government’s policy on surrendered militants. However, writing a book on the issues and problems of Naxals in south Chhattisgarh is a difficult task now more than before.

Bhardwaj deals with the situation deftly, narrating the land’s woes in several short stories rather than a long one, making it an eminently readable account.

The Death Script; Ashutosh Bhardwaj, Fourth Estate/HarperCollins, ₹599.

The reviewer is an independent journalist.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 6:12:11 PM |

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