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Read about how a young IPS officer staged India's largest-ever opium bust in spite of political games being played in the corridors of power, travel with Prem Sagar as he traces the journey of his father, Ramanand Sagar, who is forever embedded in the Indian psyche thanks to "Ramayan", and finally, immerse yourself in an elegantly-crafted biography of a remarkable scientist, publicist and personality - J.B.S. Haldane.
The IANS Bookshelf offers you a varied choice this weekend. Make the most of it!
1. Book: The Barabanki Narcos - Busting India's Most Notorious Drug Cartel; Author: Aloke Lal; Publisher: Hachette; Pages: 190; Price: Rs 350.
"Among the many long dark shadows that British trading practices cast on the world is their unethical exploitation of a weed (opium) that originated in Turkey and, sometime in the 17th century, found its way to the fields of Bengal...It would not be incorrect to conclude that the onus for introducing opium smuggling to the world actually rests on Britain."
That's the rather ominous opening of this book by Aloke Lal, who served in the Indian Police Service (IPS) for 37 years, retiring as Uttarakhand's Director General of Police (DGP), and covers the period when he was the Superintendent of Police of Barabanki district in Uttar Pradesh at time when it was a hotbed of opium smuggling.
In India, legal cultivation of opium can only be done on behalf of the government and all possible pilfer points are seemingly covered by a stringent law "but the reality is that the farmers, in collusion with the authorities, manage to slip some of the opium into a parallel illegal channel" where it fetches astronomical prices far greater than what the government pays, Lal writes.
"Thus a system is created where black money keeps everyone happy. What the British had started centuries ago still lives on in a different form, with the authorities feigning ignorance. So, when a police officer with a conscience finds himself in the middle of this system, the only course left for him is to swim against the current - and to do so comes the danger of being devoured by a well-entrenched web of crime that is not known to spare any challenger to its unhindered existence and progress," Lal explains.
He decided to bash on regardless and the result is the thrilling story behind the largest-ever opium bust in history - from the methodical build-up to the operation, the political games that played out, the deadly aftermath and the ensuing events that would leave a lasting impact on north Indian politics.
This book should be required reading at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy.
2. Book: Ramanand Sagar - An Epic life; From "Barsaat" to "Ramayan"; Author: Prem Sagar; Publisher: Westland; Pages: 277; Price: Rs 699.
He started as a clapper boy in the silent movie "Raiders of the Rail Road" in 1936 and peaked on January 25, 1987 when Doordarshan telecast the first episode of "Ramayan". In the weeks to come, the series became a national obsession, roads emptied out and no marriages or political rallies were scheduled. More than three decades later, there has been nothing to match it.
"I cannot express the emotions that came across while penning down the book. Throughout my father's years in journalism and as an author of stories, as a director of stage plays and films, his role as a producer and director of big blockbusters were all a step towards his final goal of bringing 'Ramayana' to television viewers throughout the world. The book is my putra dharma," Prem Sagar said at its launch.
A welcome addition to the literature on Indian cinema.
3. Book: A Dominant Character - The Radical Science And Restless Politics of J.B.S. Haldane; Author: Samanth Subramanian; Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Pages: 378; Price: Rs 799.
A brilliant geneticist, risky scientist passionate but deeply morally blindsided crusader for justice, possible spy and a human being with uncommon energy and zest for life, J.B.S. Haldane "had a voice, and he used it - used it all time, in fact, used it so much that it won him trouble, used it so much that it seemed he was put on earth expressly for the purpose", the Cambridge-based writer and journalist says in this book, which is also a subtle analysis of the entanglement of science and politics.
Haldane "ushered people into the deep, elegant mysteries of science. Before him, Darwin had broken down the supposition that humans were separate from nature; he had shown that the secrets of human existence had to be sought not in theology, but in biology. Haldane became a Darwanian preacher, leading his tribe through this new search. He set down the virtues - of patience, reason, experiment, and clarity. And he promised rewards: the slow revelations of nature, the joy of discovery, of unpooling the fine, invisible threads of life", Subramanian explains.