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10 April, 2019

#BookReview :: In Hot Blood: The Nanavati Case That Shook India by Bachi Karkaria

At lunchtime on 27 April 1959, the handsome naval commander Kawas Nanavati was told by his English wife Sylvia that she was having an affair with their flamboyant businessman-playboy friend, Prem Ahuja. Later that evening, armed with a revolver, Nanavati stormed Ahuja’s bedroom and shut the door behind him. Three gunshots were heard going off inside. Ahuja was dead.
Ahuja’s murder set in motion an extraordinary public frenzy – thousands descended on the streets of Bombay chanting in favour of the hero Nanavati and the jury, swept off their feet by the dazzling naval officer in the dock, returned a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict. This trial was the death knell of the jury system in India. It hurtled a judiciary keen on preserving justice into confrontation with an executive bending to the will of hysterical crowds and tabloids and Nanavati’s powerful friends in the establishment. In this laboriously researched book – part thriller, part courtroom drama and legal history and part social portrait of post Independence Bombay – Bachi Karkaria gives a most comprehensive account of the Nanavati case and the Constitutional crisis to which it gave birth.

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I am afraid that this is one of those rare cases where I have watched the movie before reading the book. But then Akshay Kumar starrer ‘Rustom’ released in 2016, before the release of this book, if I am not mistaken.

I had to try and remove my impressions from the movie when I started with this book. Before reading the book or even watching the movie, all I knew about this case was that it was the last case where a jury trial had taken place.

Sylvia Nanavati’s confession of an affair with Prem Ahuja to her husband was followed by the murder of Prem at the hands of Kawas Nanavati. When the case was brought to trial, the jury returned with a ‘not guilty’ verdict which was then dismissed by the court. The trial had caused a media frenzy not only due to the status of the defendant or the nature of the case but also because of quite a few of whos-who of the country at the time were known to be friends with Kawas Nanavati. He was jailed after a fresh hearing but managed to get a pardon after serving his sentence for three years.

The book reminded me of how manipulative humans can be. What was a murder case was turned into about loyalty, patriotism and about community. At the same time, we are also reminded of the power of both our judiciary system and our media. On one hand, we see the media frenzy influencing people’s opinion and judgment and on the other hand, we see the judiciary system taking the matter into its own hands. But in the end, the influential people prevail by getting a pardon for Nanavati and enabling them to move abroad and settle down as a ‘normal’ family. What I cannot get over is the many faces of both Sylvia and Kawas. First, she has an extramarital affair with Prem and then she stands by her husband during the trial. Kawas, on the other hand, murders his wife’s paramour and goes back to living a ‘normal’ life with her. 

The author has narrated the events in a simple language while creating a setting that comes alive through the pages. What was it like in India in 1950s, just after our independence? From the communal situation to the constitutional changes that India was going through at the time was captured well. This particular case turned out to be one of the last cases to be tried by a jury as the government abolished jury trials soon after.

The book does provide details and insights that google or Rustom doesn’t. But end of the day, even with all the sensationalism attached to it, the book doesn’t really make for a very fascinating read. So, would I recommend it? Yes, if you want to know more about the case but a very emphatic no, in case you are hoping for a distraction or entertainment.

Review Copy received from Juggernaut

This post is a part of A to Z Challenge and BlogchatterA2Z


2 comments:

  1. Not a genre I usually read, and seeing your rating, I don't think I'll be adding this to my TBR anytime soon anyway :-) But I liked the review. Very well written and helpful.

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  2. Would definitely love to read on this case. I hope this one does justice to the original case.
    #ContemplationOfaJoker #Jokerophilia

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