Wanted, organ donors

Wanted, organ donors

Wanted, organ donors

Pound of Flesh
Mukul Deva
Westland 2016
pp 502, Rs. 228

A young American woman arrives at Delhi Airport, but disappears before she can be picked up, leaving no trace. Mukul Deva’s Pound of Flesh reveals the world of crime that borders ordinary, everyday life. It is this matter-of-factness that makes it chilling. Combine an unscrupulous liquor dealer with political ambitions, a thug whose skill lies in killing ruthlessly, a corrupt policeman who views blackmailing as simply an additional source of income, and a butcher parading as a doctor with crooked dealings in illegal organ harvesting, and you have the perfect makings of a rogue current that pulls the unsuspecting victim under. The result is a story of unmitigated greed, of killing, and the chaos of wasted lives.

Pamela, a young American woman, arrives in Delhi and waits impatiently to be picked up by her friends. It’s the smallest of slips that lands her in a crime ring, which needs people like her to run a honeytrap farm, a brothel, and when they outlive their usefulness or prove difficult, become unwilling donors to an illegal and thriving organ-harvesting trade.

 Harpal, the liquor dealer, has his heart set on becoming the governor of Haryana. What matters if opponents have to be blackmailed, or even better, mowed down? Santosh Kumar, his henchman, has a short fuse and a long arm — the perfect combination to strike terror. To Chetan the cop, information is income. Amit Raul, the morally base doctor, specialises in organ trade. Ravinder, an ex-policeman, finds himself getting bogged down in this case of a missing girl who was to be his daughter’s guest. Pamela, who had been in touch after landing and passing through immigration, seems to have now vanished into thin air. The man at the Rent-A-Car agency who professes to have seen her, dies a sudden, mysterious death. A baggage trolley supervisor who admits to having seen the girl changes his mind from one moment to the next.

Struggling to cope with his blood pressure and his daughter’s tears, it is only little by little that the full implication of Pamela’s disappearance sinks in. Is it a coincidence that Harpal’s son, Mandeep, a doctor, and Ravinder’s daughter, Jasmine, are engaged to be married?

A lot of action in the book is thanks to coincidence. Amit Raul is a former colleague of Mandeep at the medical school. Jasmine, obligingly drives out of the house just when Santosh Kumar is tempted by a strong wish to scare her. Later, she faints to conveniently allow Santosh Kumar to abduct her. The main storyline is what happens when two corrupt men working with each other turn into enemies. Harpal, a man of means and reputation, needs men working behind scenes to do his dirty work. That involves running a brothel and enticing politicians into it, to collect incriminating evidence against them that can act as a lever.

The girls who service this brothel are ‘snatched’. They are lone, young foreign tourists who blindly walk into this trap. Other politicians, who are less obliging, are simply wiped off by a stray bomb. And of course, there are other ‘disposables’ who go up with them. Body count is of no consequence.

Santosh Kumar, his right-hand man, is set on the path of killing, and it comes easy. His childhood, marked by violence, has provided him with the perfect temperament for his job. Once the first step has been taken, the downhill slide is smooth. When Amit Raul suggests using the basement in the honeytrap farm to harvest organs, the only thing that is open to discussion is the money. First, it is the organs of people who are dead. Then comes the temptation of harvesting organs from people who are alive.

In the end, Harpal has achieved everything he had wanted in life, but he pays the price for it with his most precious possession. Santosh Kumar, a nobody  who rises to power, money, possessions, also loses that which is of great importance to him. The unasked question looms large: was it worth it ?

Based loosely on an actual Amit Raul, who ran an illegal organ-harvesting clinic in Gurugram, we are made aware of the evil that leaks when the safety valves of moral values are shut off.

The book is racy in parts. But the weak link is in the character of Ravinder, an ex-policeman himself. It is hard to believe that a man who fought terrorists is so slow to smell a rat. Another weak factor is the incident of Ruby, his terrorist daughter, thrown in almost lackadaisically, with not much to link to the story. A light read — thrilling in parts — on corruption and its consequences, with other compelling factors such as abduction and illegal organ-harvesting.