FROM A WRITER WHO’S LIVED MANY LIVES—THAT OF A REFUGEE, A CLEANER, A NAXAL, A RICKSHAW-PULLER, A COOK, AND NOW AN MLA
Imaan Ali had entered Central Jail as an infant with his mother, who was charged with the murder of his father. Zahura Bibi died when he was six, and he grew up, shuttling between a juvenile remand home and the boys’ ward in the prison. Now, twenty years later, he has been released. With no family or home to return to, he ends up at the Jadavpur railway station, becoming a ragpicker on the advice of a former jail-mate, an expert pickpocket.
The world of the free baffles him, and although the people living in the shanties by the railside—rickshaw-pullers, scrap-dealers, tea-stall owners, and those who sell dead bodies for a little bit of money—welcome him into their fold, life on a platform is both disillusioning and frightening at once; far more frightening than the precincts he was familiar with. This, too, is a prison, like the one he came from; that was small, and this is much larger. But no one went hungry in the jail he came from. If nothing else, one had a roof on their head, got three square meals, a blanket to sleep on.
To get away from this odd world, Imaan wishes to return to the secure existence of a prison cell. He finds out that while there is only one door to get out of prison, there are a thousand doors to return to it—like theft, murder, rioting or rape. But is Imaan up to the task? Is he capable of committing a crime?