Of sultans and power trips

Jan 09, 2017, 09:50 IST | Joanna Lobo

At a time when the upcoming elections and demonetisation have swept everyone’s collective thinking, it is a change to read a gripping novel that delves deep into the mire that is Delhi and Uttar Pradesh’s power mafia

The Jama Masjid and other Delhi monuments play silent spectators in the book. Pic/AFP
The Jama Masjid and other Delhi monuments play silent spectators in the book. Pic/AFP

At a time when the upcoming elections and demonetisation have swept everyone’s collective thinking, it is a change to read a gripping novel that delves deep into the mire that is Delhi and Uttar Pradesh’s power mafia.

Arnab Ray’s Sultan of Delhi: Ascension (Hachette India) is a book that follows Arjun Bhatia, a refugee from Lahore, who is street smart, and uses these traits to become the most influential powerbroker in Delhi. The book covers it all — internal family conflicts, betrayal, the cost of friendship, sex, love stories, gangster feuds and violence. There’s a fair bit of history thrown in with references to the Partition and the Emergency period.

Small exchanges liven up the book — when Arjun and his best friend (affectionately called Bangali) argue over whether Kishore Kumar or Mohammed Rafi was the better singer. Arjun is a film buff (much like the writer) so there are many references to the movie Anand, Amitabh Bachchan and KL Saigal. In fact, his story reads like a Bollywood saga from the ’80s: a partition refugee who enters India penniless, rises to power, takes revenge on his enemies, has an extramarital affair and struggles to control his family.

The author’s ability to keep you hooked, exploited so well in his book, The Mine, is what works for Sultan of Delhi. You want to know how Arjun’s story turns out, whether his mistakes catch up with him or he goes soft with age.

The ending leaves you with more questions than answers but then again, it’s a saga that you know will need a sequel.

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