Free Press Journal

Race Course Road: A Novel Hardcover by Seema Goswami-Review


Title: Race Course Road

Author: Seema Goswami

Pages: 285

Publisher: Aleph

Price: Rs. 599


Barring a few, there are not many good political thrillers around, especially from Indian authors, so the announcement of senior journalist and columnist Seema Goswami’s first book being one led to an excruciating wait. Right from the title Race Course Road, which is the present-day lane of power with the Prime Minister residing here, to the plot built on the back of murder, scandals and fights for ascension to the throne, the book ostensibly smacks of politics.

The opening scene will doubtlessly remind you of a chapter from recent political history of India—Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, minus the blood and gore—when Prime Minister Birendra Pratap Singh is killed at a political rally just a little way off Lutyens’ Delhi. The immediate scramble for an uttaradhikari leads his elder son Karan to accept the role of an acting PM till the untimely elections (that he should effortlessly win riding the sympathy vote) are out of the way.

His and his closeted brother Arjun’s cup of woe brim over with the arrival of Asha, their loathed step-sister, from London who is obviously more adept to take on the mantle vacated by their father. The book keenly captures the chaos within the family, in the party (led by defence minister Madan Mohan Prajapati) and outside in the nation (lathered by warring, top-rated journalists Gaurav Agnihotri and Manisha Patel, and main opposition party leader Jayesh Sharma).

At this point, the plot is poised to develop and begins to immediately splutter. Except for a few scandals and a limited amount of horse-trading (or rather especially here), the characters are too white to belong to this generation, even as each and every one of them are clichés. I would be pleased to find political leaders with the level of education, civility and conscience as is portrayed here; they are virtually gentlemen with minor flaws. Goswami’s immense empathy for her characters is obvious, but this turns the political hotbed into an ideal level playground among matched equals. Where is the thrill in that?

Also, the book only steps out of the confines of Race Course Road to meet two regional leaders on their home ground, to go to their ancestral village Bharatpur and when introducing Asha’s lifestyle in London. All the action stays confined at home otherwise. The element of brash, coarse, and wily politicians with a win-at-any-cost attitude is also sorely missed here. It takes an unapologetic and out-and-out villain to build a solid case for the protagonists. That’s the other point: the complete absence of a powerful antagonist. There are two nearly rivals and even then they fail to add up to one complete whole.

It is certain that Race Course Road is well-paced and there is never a dull moment. You will enjoy rushing to keep pace with the book and put it down only once it’s over, just like I did. Goswami seems inclined to take us on a walk through the most-guarded road in India, now renamed Lok Kalyan Marg with acute attention to minute details such as the various bungalows inside the complex, the level of security, etc. It almost feels like a book ready to be adapted for the silver screen. Her characters are text-book variations of politicians, and the aam-janta would definitely be interested to know more about them and their tales of corruption and scandals. The discerning reader will wait for her next, which will hopefully have more punch and thrilling twists.