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“Contamination” by Richa Lakhera – Book Review

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The first that struck me when I got my hands on Richa Lakhera’s Contamination was actor Manoj Bajpayee’s comment: “Brilliant. Standout. Richa Lakhera writes vividly of the wicked.”And that set a lot of expectations from the book. After all, very few play wicked better than Mr Bajpayee himself. 

To be honest, the book met most of those expectations, and the ones it didn’t were personal choices rather than shortcomings. So, overall, Contamination is an intriguing read, and if you like mythological thrillers, you cannot miss this. 

What’s Contamination about?

At its very core, Contamination is a simple story – establishment against indigenous communities to take hold of their land and resources. What makes it unique is the flavours of tradition and mythology combined with sociopolitical evils that give the book a gory and horrifying appeal. 

A woman is hanging from a tree, with her young daughter standing beneath in horror. That’s how Contamination starts. No beating around the bush at all. Richa Lakhera dives deep straightaway, and that takes you aback. From the very first page, you sense anxiety and tension building around your mind. And it grows with every page, every chapter.

Contamination is a tale of the struggle of Habishis, who’ve lived in the Hori Mountains for centuries. A state-sponsored military vet, Colonel Rosie Madbull, is on a mission not commissioned by the establishment. Researchers have recently discovered hidden resources in the Hori Mountains, the very soil of the Habishis. Madbull’s out there to eliminate the “savages” who don’t deserve to be treated humanly. 

Amba, a born witch, is the centrepiece of the resistance, though she’s hated by his only sibling and most of the village. A certain force resides within her, which fights with Amba to manifest itself. The force within struggles to unite while Amba resists consistently. In the end, the unison turns out to be a humongous, horrifying spectacle. 

What I Liked About Contamination

The best thing about Contamination is the depiction of the beautiful narration of the story. It felt as if I were in the mountains, and felt a chill run through my back on more than one occasion. In fact, the book may well be too much to handle for the faint-hearted. 

The horrors of the jungle amid the cold mountains, the magnificent Iravati River, the hellhole of the Baikaal Jail, and the overall darkness come together to form a dreadful picture in the reader’s mind. I even had a bad dream one night after finishing the chapter when Madbull’s Redhounds pounded on Amba inside the prison. 

Then there are the characters, broken, multilayered, and unpredictable. There’s nothing “rosy” about Rosie Madbull. He’s nothing short of a mad warlord, a butcher with unquestioned authority, and a pack of wolves waiting for hunting orders at all times. Madbull’s presence adds weight to the reader’s mind as if it were the one being crushed under his feet. Likewise, the characters of Nakul, his loving wife Tara, and the protagonist, Amba, were all grounded for the most part.

What I loved the most was the author’s veiled portrayal of reality. Terrorism inflicted by state-backed forces is widely documented in India and elsewhere. Various governments partnering with crony capitalists to wipe out the Adivasis from their lands, using inhuman tactics is something the urban public is aware of but, unfortunately, apathetic to it. The book’s like a sharp nudge to wake us up. 

What I Did Not Like About Contamination

As I said at the beginning, where I felt Contamination felt short was my personal preference. For instance, I felt that the author spent too much time giving details of things that I felt were not as much important, like the climate, the physical environment, the inner experiences, etc. I feel that if a strict eye edits the book, the novel would had at least 15-20 pages. 

I also felt that the author made the descriptions so complex that it caused me to lose interest at times. A few chapters dragged a lot, which I painfully felt were unnecessary. Likewise, I found the language to be a bit too crude, which makes the narration complex and difficult to follow. However, it may just be the case with me, and some others may enjoy the detailed descriptions, and there’s a lot of it. 

Final Thoughts

Contamination is a fantastic novel and is among the better ones by young Indian authors that I have come across recently. The novel has its shortcomings, but most of them can be ignored. And that’s because the narration, the characters, and the central story are phenomenal. 

About the Author

Richa Lakhera is an award-winning journalist and author of six novels. Richa worked with NDTV, a prestigious media organization, for over a decade, won the Excellence in Entertainment Journalism Award in 2016 and was among the 1000 Women of Excellence in Asia, Womennovator Awards, 2021. Some of her novels have also been adapted on the big screen and OTT. 

Ratings – 3.5/5

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