With ‘Lal Salaam’, one of India’s prominent government ministers turns thriller writer. Smriti Zubin Irani, the Minister of Women and Child Development, joined the Nehru Centre in London virtually for the UK launch of her debut novel.
“We're doing an international launch – there you go! That's the Kodak moment out here," opened the show in his own inimitable way. He declared the thriller an unputdownable book, which he read through in five hours straight.
"I endeavoured to make sure that the chilling component of the book is genuinely thrilling,” said Irani, of her literary triumph.
“I know that many compositions get sold with a lot of hype and when the reader goes through the entire story, they are disappointed. I was extremely adamant that though the name on the book says Smriti Irani, I should not in any way make the reader feel that they did not enjoy, and just reading the book because they support me or they like me, or they were intrigued by the idea of me writing a book. The book must be, as my Dad used to say, a total paisa vasool (money’s worth)," she said.
Pointing to the added challenge faced by fiction writers today of co-existing with the on-demand visual presentations of fiction on , she noted: "I wanted the readers to have a visual understanding of the story. For me, when people tell me after they read the book that it reads almost like a film script and that they can visualise the characters – that is the success that I'm celebrating with this book."
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Among many of her qualities, the multi-talented Irani is adept at winning over the hearts of her audience with her powerful oratory. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that her signature style shines through as an author as well.
The former television actress and producer now represents the constituency of Amethi as a member of Parliament in India’s Lok Sabha, to which she was elected in 2019. Earlier, she was a member of the Rajya Sabha, representing the state of from 2011 and 2019. Before her current portfolio in the Union Cabinet, Irani has served as Minister for Human Resource Development, Information & Broadcasting and Textiles.
During the Nehru Centre book launch, the audience got to hear more about the process of writing her first novel. She reflected on how Indian fiction of this genre has a romanticism attached to it in a way that the nation-state is often shown to be the villain.
"I think with this book for the first time, you'll see the other side of the story as well," she said.
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Smriti Irani shared how she had felt enraged at the comment of a panellist in a television debate 10 years ago when 70 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officers were killed. The analysts had said the moment these officers wear their uniform, it's only natural that they should be ready to die. This is the comment that would stay with Irani the author for years to come and eventually took the shape of ‘Lal Salaam’, portraying the lives of the forces, their values and love for their country.
"This book that stemmed from this rage. I came into constitutional positions, and I could not tell certain facts, so , and then one day I decided that this is a story that needs to be told in a fictional set-up."
Touching upon the Naxalites and Marxism, which forms the baseline of her fictional tale, the self-proclaimed "belligerent said: "I don't know what is so intelligent about bringing people to death. You can have an ideology that aspires for a better future, for a better society. But what kind of ideology says that you need to slay innocents, that you need to bring down social structures so that you can profit in the garb of bringing about equality? How many people talk about the fact that in Naxal camps women had been raped by commanders of the of those areas and children recruited so that they can kill!"
However, she empathised with the gullibility of ordinary people.
"But what I did understand was people were misled. People were told that this is a better way out, possibly through indoctrination, and I think that nuance is reflected in the book 'Lal Salaam'.
It is complicated and complex for those working within the police systems trying to bring to justice those who take up arms against the state or bring to death Indian citizens, and this book is about those people.”
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Amid some laugh-out-loud moments during the engaging book launch, Tripathi mock attempted to give away spoilers from the gripping . However, with his author guest’s vehement opposition, the result was to create intrigue that would only compel readers to buy the book to find out more.
So, is there a real-life professor at the University of Delhi from the book, the big bad villain?
"The beauty of this story is that if you give away even one character, the entire thing comes apart," Irani said, sounding just like a protective mother would of her baby.