Murder In the Bylanes: Life and death in a divided city is a hard-hitting and gripping account of life in Kanpur in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition. This book is co-authored by Aloke Lal, a former Indian Police Service officer, and his son Maanas Lal, a prolific writer and artist.
Aloke has served a 37-year-long illustrious career in the police force, and this book covers his experiences in Kanpur, where he took charge as Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in 1993. Kanpur was a hotbed for communal politics, especially in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition.
The book begins with the authors discussing how the Ganges descended to this earth due to the austere penance of King Bhagirath. The Ganga-Jamuna Tehzeeb, or the culture that has evolved in the Gangetic plains, an amalgamation of two rivers, a confluence of two different cultures and different ideologies, is referenced and hailed.
This book is a realistic peek into the life of a Police officer tasked with establishing law and order in a city that is on the verge of breaking into riots. Morale is low within the Police force, there is push and pull from political parties, and constant pressure from both the media and the masses. This book humanizes the men in uniform and lets the reader into the sacrifices they make.
A single act of violence or a loosely spoken word has the potential to snowball into something chaotic and destructive. Aloke Lal is at the forefront and defuses such situations by deploying his courage and leadership skills. Some chapters transport you to the scene of the riots, and you watch with bated breath how the events unfold.
He establishes an intelligence network of informers and ensures that the lonely streets besieged by local gangsters are safe for policemen. There are untoward incidents of violence against the police that demoralize the force, and yet he manages to pull them together and motivates them to perform their election duties.
The murder referenced in the title, is of the gangster Kala Bacha, and the subsequent political and communal repercussions of his death. Given the volatile situation, swift decision-making was required to prevent a widescale eruption of riots. With tact and wisdom, Aloke Lal and his men prevent further bloodshed in the bylanes.
I found the epilogue to be powerful. The authors introspect on why communal tension is prevalent. To de-escalate such flare-ups, the police force plays a critical role. They must be equipped with able leadership to ensure timely arrests are made and law and order are enforced.
The book not only showcases the day-to-day life of a police officer but also incorporates several nuggets of wisdom regarding history and culture that make it a riveting read. The narrative is lucid, and a sensitive subject has been handled well, making it a contemporary and relevant read.
A must-read as a thriller, a documentary, or a true-crime book. A well-written work that is unbiased and states facts analytically.
Bravo to the father-son duo for penning this, and eagerly looking forward to this dynamic duo’s next book!