As a 90’s kid living in India, the famed Akbar-Birbal stories were part of my growing up years – firstly, thanks to the Amar Chitra Katha comics, and secondly, courtesy the animated series on Cartoon Network. Known for his sharp mind, analytical skills, and quirky wit, Birbal was one of Akbar’s ‘Navaratna’ (nine gems).
From mundane matters pertaining to state of affairs, to something as absurd as counting the number of crows in the kingdom – popular tales of Birbal encompassed it all. So, it was absolutely intriguing to land a book about ‘detective’ Birbal who is entrusted with solving a murder mystery. ‘The Tree Bears Witness’ by Sharath Komarraju shows us a new side to the popular historical figure.
Given the times we live in, where any reference to historical figures is met with a threat to life, or a bounty on the head, it is brave of the writer to pen a fictional tale of the murder of Sujjamal, brother of the newly-wedded Rajput queen of Emperor Akbar. Imagine an envoy of a foreign country dying under mysterious circumstances in India – Sujjamal’s murder has similar far-reaching political consequences, as his marriage with the Rajput princess was a political manoeuvre.
Given the gravity of the situation, Akbar turns to his trusted lieutenant to bring the perpetrator to justice using his famed grey matter. While Birbal sets on the task, he has a herculean challenge laid out before him. Palace politics plays out, as powerful people try to throw Birbal off-course in his task. An innocent scape-goat is jailed for convenience and rivalries play out in a way that makes Birbal’s work even more arduous.
The brisk pace of the story, with all the twists, makes this novel an enjoyable read. Birbal could very well be a modern-day CBI sleuth who is investigating the murder of a diplomat; the spirit of the story would remain intact. The delectable writing, with historical setting, set this book a class apart. The climax, where Birbal assembles the entire royal clan to reveal the murderer, reminded me of how Feluda always finished his cases.
Overall, ‘The Tree Bears Witness’ by Sharath Komarraju is an exciting murder mystery that adds a dash of history to a fictional tale of whodunit. If you read between the lines, the political subtext in the novel will surely impress you.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
P.S. The review copy of the book was provided by Amazon.
DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Book Have Their Respective Copyrights
Mukul Roy addressed his first rally as BJP Leader on November 10. From the stage, he unleashed a flurry of attacks on the ruling establishment in Bengal. The so-called ‘Chanakya’ was liberal with facts, and so his political rhetoric was full of inconsistencies and ironies.
In this post, I attempt to ask Mukul Roy some questions, and set the record straight.
A meme doing the rounds on WhatsApp
Mukul Roy: I am reminded of 2006 where people were dying and CM was attending film festival. Only the CM has changed but the situation is same. People are dying of dengue and she is attending nacha-gaana.
Counter: Unlike her predecessor, Mamata Banerjee has not relinquished her duties as Chief Minister. The film festival is an important event in the cultural calendar of the State. Even before attending the inaugural ceremony, an important stock-taking meeting was held at Nabanna for projects of the rural development ministry.
Before preaching about dengue deaths, Mukul Roy should see the state-wise statistics of deaths due to vector-borne diseases. BJP-ruled States are the worst performers. The casualties in Bengal are much lesser, thanks to the initiatives of the State Govt.
Mukul Roy: TMC slogan was bodla noy, bodol chai. Only little has changed while politics of vengeance has been unleashed. This kind of politics to silence Opposition in Bengal is unprecedented.
Counter: Mr Roy should feel ashamed that he feels nothing has changed in Bengal. Has he forgotten the sacrifice of thousands of Congress and TMC workers? Has he forgotten the bloodied past of Singur, Nandigram, Netai, Keshpur? Can he point to a single case of mass murder or massacre under Mamata? Does he not see the smiles on the faces of people of Jangalmahal? Amlashole gets rice at Rs 2/kg now. Is this not a change?
Mukul Roy: False cases are being registered. Police is being misused. In a democracy I have the right to protest.
Counter: Former MP Somen Mitra is on record saying Mukul Roy confided in him that the latter was out of jail only because of Arun Jaitley. Look at BJP’s track record of the misuse of CBI. It is ironical that Mukul Roy himself had addressed several pressers on the vindictive politics of BJP in the past.
Mukul Roy: The slogan of Buddhadeb was “Krishi amader bhitti, shilpo amader bhobisyot”. TMC slogan was “krishi aar shilpo, hashi aar khushi’. Hashi (Smile) of farmers has disappeared. Khushi (happiness) of industry is absent in Bengal.
Counter: Indulging in political rhetoric without any basis in facts seems to be the pre-requisite to joining BJP. Mukul Roy is suffering from the same disease.
It is a matter of record that Bengal Government has won Krishi Karman for six years in a row since 2011. Is this not a sign of “hashi”? More than 69 Lakh Kisan Credit Cards have been distributed so far. Farmer’s household income more than doubled, while Modi has failed to deliver on his poll promise.
It is true Bengal has had a negative image when it comes to industries. There is a history behind this perception. In the last six years, this legacy has been shed off. Thanks to the successful organisation of Bengal Global Business Summit three years in a row, the world now recognises Bengal as an investment destination. 40% of proposals received are under process while the figure for Gujarat is 1% only.
The core strength of Bengal is the MSME sector where the State has seen unprecedented growth in six years. The bank credit growth is the highest in the country. So when Mukul Roy says there is no ‘khushi’ in Bengal, does he mean khushi among BJP cadres?
Mukul Roy: Like Jyoti babu, Mamata Banerjee is also going to London to bring investments. But no investment has come in. At least Jyoti babu used to go alone, she takes an entourage with her.
Counter: As I have already said, Bengal has a legacy of negative image. Mamata Banerjee’s trips may not bring immediate investments, but they go a long way in changing the perception of the State. Instead of petty political partisanship, should the BJP not feel proud every time the State earns laurels abroad?
Mukul Roy: TMC had said there will be no politicisation of education. Can I ask, who is the VC of CU? An incompetent party cadre has been put on the chair.
Counter: What is Mukul’s view on saffronisation of education under BJP? Pray, what are the credentials of Gajendra Chauhan, Smriti Irani and their ilk? What is the qualification of the chief of ICHR? Has he forgotten how BJP meddled in the affairs of JNU?
Mukul Roy: Healthcare in Bengal is in shambles. Multi speciality hospitals are being built where there are no doctors or patients
Counter: Bengal is the national model when it comes to setting up fair price medicine shops. There has been a huge increase in healthcare infrastructure in Bengal which has resulted in significant reduction in infant mortality rate. Institutional delivery rate has risen from 65 to 90%.
Mukul Roy should rather have a chat on healthcare with the health minister of UP, who had ironically said ‘Bhaag Mukul Bhaag’ in 2015, on the deaths of newborns in Gorakhpur.
Mukul Roy: I quit TMC because we have been failed to fulfil our electoral promises. There is no democracy inside the party.
Counter: Between 2011-15, did Mukul Roy not attend inauguration of government schemes and projects? Were they false? Which promise has not been fulfilled?
The Trinamool Congress gave an account of work done in their 2016 Manifesto. Mukul Roy was in the party back then. Did he not believe in his own party’s manifesto?
The people of Bengal have voted Didi to power for a second term with record 211 seats. Is this not democracy? Is this not an endorsement of her work?
Mukul Roy: Biswa Bangla is not a govt organisation. It is a company. Owner is Abhishek Banerjee. Jago Bangla, the mouthpiece of TMC, is registered in the name of Abhishek Banerjee
Counter: The Home Secretary of Bengal has already countered Mukul Roy’s false claim about Biswa Bangla. I need not add more.
Partha Chatterjee has rubbished his false claims about Jago Bangla already.
Mukul Roy: Mamata’s appeasement policy is fuelling communalism. Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja are being banned. This is an assault on Bengali culture
Counter: Durga Puja was never banned. Restrictions were put up for Bishorjon by the police due to Muharram. As I had written earlier, in Durga Pujo, ghot bishorjon is the main ritual on Dashami, which happens at the pandal itself. Idol immersion is not guided by scriptures.
Mukul Roy is speaking the language of BJP. Tolerance and harmony have been Bengali culture for eons. Armed rallies on Ram Navami have never been part of BJP culture. What appeasement is he talking about? Kanyashree, Sikshashree, Sabuj Sathi, Khadya Sathi, Gatidhara, Gitanjali – who are the beneficiaries? People of all religions, caste and creed.
Mamata Banerjee attends the festivals and programmes of all religions. But BJP has a problem only when she attends Muslim functions.
Mukul Roy: I was present at Delo during CM’s meeting with Sudipto Sen. Raghavendra Singh and Kunal Ghosh were also present. Initial conversation was about tourism and business initiatives. Then I left. Meetings were held at Suvaprasanna’s house, Pratidin office. Sudipto Sen invested in Rs 840 crore for tourism, ambulance.
Counter: If he was privy to this information, why did not share it with investigative agencies for 4 years? Why did he conceal? Is it also not a matter of record that Mukul Roy was the last person to call up Saradha Chairman before he escaped to Kashmir?
Mukul Roy: So many festivals are being organised but State has no money for employees.
Counter: Every department has a budget of which festivals are a small part. Mukul Roy himself attended these festivals until two years ago. Did his conscience not prick him back then? A lot of self-help groups and artistes earn livelihood from these festivals. Is Mukul Roy against their interests? As for employees, a pay commission has been set up. Despite the huge debt burden, the State Govt is giving DA to employees to the best of its ability. If Mukul really cares about finances of Bengal, he should ask Jaitley to grant a moratorium to the State.
Mukul Roy: TMC is not a political party. It has become a limited company.
Counter: BJP is Adani Private Limited. Mukul Roy has now chosen to serve in Jay Shah’s company.