Book Review
K Vijay Kumar may not be as good a writer as he is a cop, but his book is nevertheless unputdownable.

Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand is neither a full-fledged biography of the much-feared bandit, the book’s subject, nor of its writer, K Vijay Kumar. But in capturing the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force’s attempts to nail the elusive kidnapper and sandalwood smuggler, it has no rival.

Kumar may not be as good a writer as he is a cop, but his book is nevertheless unputdownable. His writerly skills can be in question (he does get cheesy, at times), but he does deliver the story straight, like a shot from his gun.

Kumar is also disarmingly frank and honest, while careful not to ruffle too many feathers, especially of those ensconced in power. He is funny at times, but his prose is really bare, best suited for a book of this nature.

The story is well-chronicled in films. Ram Gopal Varma, perhaps the director best equipped to make a movie on the brigand, released Killing Veerappan last year to much attention, but little appreciation. In 2013, AMR Ramesh made Vana Yuddham, starring Arjun and featuring Kishore as Veerappan. Though this critic thought the movie was quite competent, it didn’t make much of a blip on the critical and commercial radar.

But Vijay Kumar’s book is more detailed even though it is largely silent on the rise of the brigand. Kumar makes quick work of both his and the brigand’s early days. The boy Veerappan is really not the story here. The author is more keen to get to the tale of the infamous brigand, who garnered many headlines and became the talk of the town, especially during the days he held Kannada screen icon Rajkumar captive.

An entire section is dedicated to the kidnapping saga and accompanying media frenzy. Kumar doesn’t think the episode was well-handled and his distaste somehow creeps into his writing.

Kumar frankly admits that his version is biased towards the STF. Operation Cocoon in which Veerappan was shot dead after refusing to surrender was conceived by Kumar while in the STF. He had been personally entrusted with the task by the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa to whom the book is dedicated.

But it is intriguing to find that the book, which has been released 13 years after the brigand’s killing, hit the stands only after the death of the late CM. Jayalalithaa had in many ways set the ball rolling leading to the death of the outlaw.

Chasing the Brigand is a dedication of sorts to the countless police and STF personnel, along with many informants and villagers, who were executed by the ruthless brigand during the height of his powers. But the thrilling page-turner is also a proud retelling of the many efforts to curb the outlaw’s activities by famed officers including Walter Davaram and Karnataka’s Shankar Bidari.

The book is at its best while recalling the various forays by STF personnel into the jungle, which had become a sanctuary for Veerappan. In great detail, Kumar captures the accompanying dangers of the various search operations and skirmishes with the notorious and deadly gang. The courage displayed by the STF, despite its many losses, is on proud display. Kumar himself made many recces of the territories that were under the gunslinger’s rein.

On many occasions, the STF came within sniffing distance of the brigand only to be outwitted. During some of these operations, the outlaw was plainly lucky to get away; in others, he displayed a keen instinct and knowledge of the territory, which helped him immensely.

In the book, Veerappan is portrayed as a person with a vengeful nature bent on showing his wrath towards STF officers who caused his gang harm. In many ambushes, retold in the book in meticulous detail by Kumar, Veerappan picked and killed officers at will. In return, STF officers dedicated their lives to catching the fugitive, with a few of them taking oaths to marry only after the onerous task was done.

But Koose Muniasamy Veerappan was not just a deadly shot with sharp eyes. He had a battle-worn soldier’s brain, which helped him stay alive and see through many operations conducted by the STF against him. His network of informers was extensive and many of the villagers in the area openly supported him, much to the dismay of the STF. In the end, Operation Cocoon which ended the menace was due to the superior strategy displayed by Kumar and his small team based on reliable information sourced from moles and informants. Do watch out for the mysterious Mr X.

Cocoon was based on the fact that Veerappan had a serious eye ailment and needed urgent treatment, which ultimately forced him to leave his turf in the forest. He was also seriously short of arms and ammunition and wanted to get in touch with ultras in Sri Lanka, who would help him. An STF vehicle was altered to look like an ambulance, into which Veerappan was lured by officers posing as ultras.

As a literary device that adds to the excitement of reading the book, Kumar flips back and forth in time, revealing page by page of gripping detail on Veerappan’s extraordinary life and times. More pronouncedly, the book is also written in the style of a novel, often providing us insights into Veerappan’s thoughts. The STF serves more like a cast in the hands of a flagrant writer, with the quirks, lingo and habits of each officer making him stand out from the rest. But non-fiction with novelistic qualities can have its own pitfalls and they are also on display here.

The author’s various references to the codenames of the officers and operations conducted, including Operation Boston, Operation Inundation and Operation Cocoon during the last phase of Veerappan’s life, make the book all the more pleasurable to read. Kumar also doesn’t flinch away from admitting failures, both in intelligence sharing and lack of skills of officers. He especially makes a pointed reference to the delay in using a helicopter to survey the area under the brigand’s control.

It is unlikely that this book will be anything short of a bestseller. Within the limits he seems to have set for himself, the author does a commendable job.

The book has been published by Rupa and costs Rs 395.