Every year most people learn of the persons who get the higher positions in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the other top civil services, from the media—the newspapers and television specifically—not only as news stories but by a whole lot of stories that follow; interviews with the ‘toppers’, with women who have been successful, and with those among the successful ones who are Dalits. They are photographed, their families interviewed, all smiles and satisfaction. Even neighbours are sometimes featured.
After a week or so they cease to be news. Kali’s Daughter takes the reader into the lives of those successful men and women, who, after the media interest in them has died away, then begin their training in the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie (LBSNAA). This is, in fact, why the novel is not just diverting, but fascinating, because what happens to these men and women is not a happily-ever-after story. Far from it. Given that the author has, as an IAS officer, been through the indoctrination, if one can call it that, which the characters of his novel now go through, he is in a position to visualize their actions and reactions, and more importantly to understand what they must feel as new recruits.
The protagonist in the novel is Deepika Thakur, who is now a member of the IFS, and the main issue that runs through the book is the existence, like a cancer, of caste prejudice in even the so-called enlightened, educated classes. Deepika belongs to the Chamar community, a fact that the author reveals very early in the novel; her father had adopted the surname Thakur to avoid the discrimination he had faced in his early years as a lowly official in a government department and did not want his daughter to face it too. Inevitably, though, her caste is revealed; readers must find out how and why by reading the book.
There are other characters who play significant roles in the plot; Amandeep Shankar Acharya, born into a family of former IAS officers and civil servants, Cambridge educated and with some years spent in the UK; Rajesh Singh from Delhi University; Atul Srivastava, a doctor who decided to sit for the IAS examination and was successful; the Mumbai and New York returned Arundhati Gupta, who has aspirations to being stylistic in terms of dress and, appropriately, with literary inclinations, having done a brief stint with a publishing house before her entry into the IAS; and Vijay, who for a great part of the book, is known only by his first name, from Hyderabad and Jawaharlal Nehru University, and also, like Deepika, a Dalit, but unlike Deepika, not bothering to conceal his caste.