Singh’s debut novel exposes the conflicting interests and corrupting desires of trade unions during the last three decades of 20th-century India.
Chosen to replace the latest in a line of negligent managers at the Amlawar branch of India’s nationalized bank, a noble, accomplished man named Purshottam encounters a disheartening situation in which workers are rewarded for laziness, sloppiness and absenteeism. He soon discovers that top union leaders control not just the bank, but the politics of his country, causing its citizens to live under fear and great hardships. Believing that the bank’s productivity reflects that of the nation, Purshottam socializes with his new employees, empowers them in their day-to-day duties and encourages them to take pride in their work. When the ruthless union activist, Pandey, and his proudly manipulative underling, Neki Lal, realize that the new manager’s integrity threatens their very existence, they attempt to intimidate him. Meanwhile, Chanchal, a young orphan desperate for spirituality, also struggles at the Amlawar branch. His rejection of American-influenced business techniques and his desire for truth and justice make him a target. Unfairly dismissed, he’s visited by an angel who confirms his innate goodness before cult members murder him. With the sheen of a martyr, his fate becomes an inspiration for all bank employees—regardless of caste or union involvement—to follow a “religion” of “transparency and truth.” Singh does an excellent job of introducing readers to the perils of unions and the nationalization of competitive industries. His cast of peons, clerks, officers and the laborers reveals India’s complex and unforgiving class system, but the characters come off as two-dimensional and experience little growth, despite a last-minute transformation by Neki Lal “to do the right” after Chanchal’s death. Stilted dialogue and high-minded editorializing mar the storytelling, as does the meandering pace and absence of intrigue.
An extended, sometimes labored parable of good and evil on “the need for transparency in human interactions.”