A very moral Narcos

A very moral Narcos

‘The Barabanki Narcos' is a misnomer for this memoir of an anti-opium crusader

While the Netflix series from which Lal takes his title gives a more rounded portrait of the drug trade in Colombia, showing vices and virtues in both the dealer and the cop, Lal’s account of how he cracked down on one of India’s most notorious opium hubs is morally charged.

Set in the 1980s, the book reveals Lal as an astute, honest, kind, short-tempered and sports-loving officer, who recounts a great many code words the police used back then, in true crime thriller fashion.

Lal follows a novelist’s style, with mixed results. The memoir is a weak thriller, the genre the cover illustration and the title seem to intend for the book. Descriptions feel repetitive and people in the account feel two dimensional.

The book is strongest when Lal recounts the criminal intelligence techniques he pioneered. Since his appointment in the notorious Barabanki region in Uttar Pradesh, which had corrupted many of his predecessors, Lal begins a Seven Samurai-like collection of reformed drug addicts for criminal intelligence. In return, he takes a personal interest in fixing their families, setting their careers straight and encouraging them to do better.

Shades of grey don’t exist in ‘The Barabanki Narcos’; you are either ‘trusted’ (one of Lal’s favourite words) or you are wrecking families with opium.

The narrator is, however, subtle when it comes to writing about the delicate communal balance that exists in Barabanki; Lal-the-writer contains tensions as well as Lal-the-cop did over three decades ago. One of the pluses of the narration is the character of Lal himself. While the memoir is a testimony to how much the situation in Barabanki needed Lal, he feels like a misfit there, which fortunately adds to the book’s fun.

In an instance when duty calls, he sneaks away from his wedding anniversary in glitzy clothes and ends up in the red light district. The big burly IPS officer, who will physically throw a top drug dealer out of his office, is reduced to child-like awkwardness in the presence of pimps and prostitutes.

And one suspects this innocence is what stops him from entering a criminal’s mind in depth. Truman Capote, when writing the non-fiction crime novel ‘In Cold Blood’, had empathised with the murders to an extent that would make many uncomfortable and call the writer unethical. But what is created out of his possibly unhealthy empathy is an unparalleled psychological study of crime.

To be fair, Lal never claimed that he was setting out on any such venture, but the writer of ‘The Barabanki Narcos’ is such a wholesome moral being, this story of the opium trade was bound to read like a fable right from the beginning.


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