I am one of you . . . that is why I, and only I, can be trusted to do what is good for you. January 12, 2013. Sachin Lohia, billionaire businessman, has just woken up to a nightmare. A raging fire in his hospital. Over hundred people dead. Journalists demanding answers. And worst of all, the chief minister of West Bengal, the formidable Devi, calling him a murderer. Hot-headed and stubborn, Devi doesn t bother with formalities or facts. Her people are baying for blood, and Sachin is the perfect scapegoat. But will her schemes bring about his downfall or will she be the one to get hurt in this battle of wits? Seamlessly melding the personal and the political, this is a darkly satirical story of clashing egos, fatal misunderstandings, and dangerous self-deception. Irreverent, incisive, occasionally scabrous, and always bold, The Antagonists shines a light on the murky world of politics.
I, for one, have never been a fan of politics or anything related to the web of “political do-gooders”. As far as political satires are concerned, I have always stayed a thousand feet away from them. The main reason being that generally it just highlights one’s prejudices (that’s just my opinion, not a universal fact, of course). Another reason being, I am not interested in political topics. But, I cannot deny the fact that discussions and debates on politics often leads to an exploration of the “unknown” which proves to be beneficial for the general public.
Now, one might question me what made me pick The Antagonists by Tina Biswas. The answer would be I like to challenge myself by reading books from different genres, even the ones that I would prefer not to read. And, maybe I was also a bit biased because the book is set in Kolkata and I too am a resident of the same city. Before I keep weaving that gossamer string round and round, let me get straight to the review!
Writing a political satire would require immense research and clear conception on the subject that one wishes to write. The one thing that becomes clear right away in the case of The Antagonists is the amount of research that Tina has done for her book. I would also take this moment to acknowledge Tina’s sudden bursts of “word power” which unquestionably pleased me.
When I began reading the book, I immediately encountered (what seems to be inspired from a true incident) Sachin Lohia, possessor of an appreciable fortune and the proprietor of Lohia Hospital. When a conflagration nearly destroys the hospital, Lohia is accused of foul play by Devi, the Chief Minister and ultimately serves a jail time. While Sachin asserts his innocence and insists that the incident was just an unfortunate accident, Devi is positive about his involvement.
As a satire, the novel certainly mocks and ridicules it’s characters who closely resemble true personalities. The Antagonists interknits several sub-plots into the main plot through a gripping narrative. While the central plot revolves around Devi and her different pursuits, the story also integrates other characters and their chronicles to form the entire text.
I cannot help but mention that Devi closely resembles someone (who should not be named) whose personality is similar to the character. There is an uncanny similarity between their dressing sense right down to their obstinate nature. The fire at the Lohia Hospital seems to be a perfect opportunity for Devi, for she maneuvers the situation and uses it to her advantage.
As much as I would like to delve deeper and reveal all the other details, I am going to resist because what’s the fun in that?!
As Aristotle says, “A plot must have a beginning, a middle and an end” and all these parts (acts) should be held together to form a complete whole—The Antagonists begin with a promising journey but somewhere around the middle loses its pace as the characters become entangled in a political warfare. Although the dissatisfying middle of the story is redeemed by the novel’s denouement, I felt that some of the detailed commentary on the past incidents and their association with the present ones could have been avoided.
Now coming on to the narrative, I undoubtedly loved it. Biswas has a writing style that is sure to captivate the readers. What pleased me the most is her way of structuring the sentences. Speaking of the characters, the portrayal of Devi’s character was definitely the best one in The Antagonists. Tina’s choice of diction is commendable; it has that balance where it is neither too elliptical nor plain and simple. For a story which could have easily stagnated, the author managed to keep up with the demanding plotline and we are left with a compelling and thrilling book to read. The colloquy between the characters certainly brought out their inner personalities which added another dimension to the narrative. While I do feel that the author unknowingly tried to justify the behaviours of the characters ( why someone is good and another is bad) in accordance to her prejudices and attachment with the story (and characters), I think it would have been even better if it was left up to the readers to decide the roles of “the antagonists” and the “defenders of the truth”. But, it is an undeniable fact that I savoured the overall story.
The Antagonists is more of a true account on real life politicians than it is a fiction. The caricatures of the characters was an added attraction which made the novel even more lifelike and convincing. The disparate characters are not to be compared with each other yet they all end up exhibiting the same characteristics or might I say, flaws. The Antagonists narrate myriads of accounts which represents and analyses the political situation in our country. Just like the real life conundrum as to who is believable, where the populace of our country is generally deluded with false promises, the novel too encompasses a similar tragic scene.
As much as I would like to agree with Roland Barthes, I still think that a novel comes to life when the author is not actually “dead” but is involved through and through in the text. Tina’s involvement is visible in her narrative, and that is why I believe that I was able to connect with the story well. Even though the narrative did lag in-between, on the whole, the projection had a positive impact on me. After reading this political satire, I am convinced that this genre of storytelling is up my alley and maybe in future I shall enrich my bookshelves with more of these.
With a crisp storyline and realistic characters, I would definitely urge the bookworms to pick up this novel for their next reading session! But be warned it’s not an easy-breezy book to read.
Book Title: The Antagonists
Author: Tina Biswas
Total Number of Pages: 424
Publisher: Fingerprint Publishing
Publication Date: 25th January 2019
Genre: Fictional/ Political thriller
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