Home/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Book Review: ‘The Red Sari’ by Javier Moro

Lost in translation

In India Javier Moro has two claims to fame. One, he is the nephew of Dominique Lapierre—the author of three cult books, City Of Joy, Freedom At Midnight and Five Past Midnight In Bhopal. Second, he is the author of The Red Sari (the 2008 original, El Sari Rojo, was in Spanish)—the book that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance banned in its wisdom; the party perceived parts of it to be offensive to its president, Sonia Gandhi.

Few probably are aware that Moro co-authored Five Past Midnight In Bhopal, the book which captured India’s worst industrial disaster (last December, India marked its 30th anniversary). Most of us came to know about Moro after the ban. Funny how notoriety gives you instant fame, while building reputations on a considered work (like the book on Bhopal) is the luck of the draw.

Naturally, then, I was curious to know what had led to the ban. After reading it, I still can’t understand it. The logic remains as inexplicable as the implosion of the Congress party in the 16th general election under Rahul Gandhi. For The Red Sari is essentially a B-grade novel. A book that the Congress may have done well to ignore—it would have sunk without a trace.

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The Red Sari: Roli Books, 429 pages, 395.

It is actually a good starting storyboard for someone looking to make a movie on Gandhi (if she stages the otherwise unlikely revival of her party’s electoral prospects, I am sure there will be lots of takers). My guess is that Moro meant it to be exactly this: an easy read on one of the most powerful politicians of India, who happens to be of foreign origin.

The English translation is poor, with many typos. I suspect the original in Spanish is gripping, like a novel. If you are a reader looking for a factual biography of Gandhi, this is certainly not the book. But if you like pulp novels, pick it up.

A sampling of pulp fiction moments: “Can love arise in such an instantaneous, almost insolent way? When Rajiv took her hand as they were walking in the shade of the ancient walls of the cathedral, Sonia had no strength to pull it back. That warm, soft hand transmitted a feeling of immense, profound safety and pleasure." Another: “In the days that followed, she tried to fight the feeling that set her heart pounding."

Besides these chick-lit moments, the book tells us little that we don’t already know. A fictional conversation of what likely went on at significant moments in the Gandhi family saga only whets the appetite. To foreigners, all this would be new—and I suspect that this was the original target audience.

For a public figure, there is never a private moment, and gossip about them is rarely verified. So when Moro claims that Gandhi had a miscarriage in an advanced stage of pregnancy, there is no way one can verify the fact, unless we go to the primary source. But more importantly, do we care?

It is Gandhi the politician that matters. She has one of the most impressive political resumes in the country.

Till Narendra Modi took the country by storm, Gandhi had the most exemplary record in politics. She started late, in 1998, but delivered her party to power almost immediately in 2004, and then repeated the success in 2009. The book, if published at the height of her political career, may have been a good draw. But the launch is ill-timed, with the Congress witnessing monumental lows in the 2014 general election and the state elections that have followed.

If there is someone who needs to be offended by this book, it is Maneka Gandhi, the estranged daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi and sister-in-law of Sonia Gandhi. Not only does the book vilify her late husband, it is anything but flattering about Maneka Gandhi’s relationship with the Gandhi family, and her inglorious exit from it.

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Updated: 07 Feb 2015, 12:53 AM IST
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