12 January 2013. Sachin Lohia, a billionaire businessman, has just woken up from a nightmare, which is about a devastating fire in his hospital where over a hundred people die. Journalists are demanding answers from him. And worst of all, the chief minister of West Bengal, the formidable Paramita Guha Roy, or “Devi” as she is popularly known, calls him a murderer. Hot-headed and stubborn, Devi doesn’t bother with formalities or facts. Her people are baying for blood, and Sachin is the perfect scapegoat. But will her schemes bring about his downfall or will she be the one to get hurt in this battle of wits?
The Antagonists, a novel written by Tina Biswas, vividly captures the many hues of West Bengal politics. Biswas is a London-based novelist with roots in West Bengal. She has written two novels previously. Dancing With The Two-Headed Tigress(2006), by Biswas, is about an Indian girl visiting her relations in London, and her other book The Red Road (2011), is about how an idealistic teacher joins the Naxalite movement.
While Sachin, in The Antagonists, spends his time in jail pending a criminal investigation for negligence, it is left to his advisor, Anil Thakur, to sort out the mess. But life has some other plan for him. Thakur wants Sachin to open a coal mine in Balachuria and decides that Devi needs to be taught a lesson—once and for all. He plans a huge project which will see him blackmailing journalists and bribing the officials of the ministry of environment.
However, land acquisition is going to be a big challenge. The situation becomes complicated when it is found that Dr Anima Acharya, a brain surgeon, to whom Anil Thakur had offered a job at the rebuilt hospital in Kolkata, is the largest landowner in Balachuria. She heads to her childhood summer house in Balachuria, hoping to start afresh. There she meets Tipu Nath, a go-getting teenager who presses her to gather support for the coal mine. But neither of them realises what havoc this will unleash.
A bold work of fiction, especially related to the situation in West Bengal, The Antagonist is a novel which swims against the rising tide of self-censorship and fear. Seamlessly melding the political with the personal, and fusing imagination with reality, The Antagonists reveals the dark, absurd heart of modern politics.
Speaking to Guardian 20, author Tina Biswas said that the idea for the novel occurred to her after a fire incident in a hospital in Kolkata, for which, according to the West Bengal chief minister, the hospital’s owner was responsible. It was an irresponsible statement, without any investigation. She says the situation in West Bengal is “disappointing”, with political violence and intimidation becoming the order of the day.