Megha Majumdar’s propulsive debut novel holds up a mirror to the current political scenario, offering a kaleidoscopic canvas into lives of contemporary India’s most neglected, weaving a realistic account of hyper-nationalism, right-wing politics & hunger for power. An innocent Facebook post by Jivan, a young muslim woman, leads to brandishing her as a terrorist. She is immediately linked to the recent terrorist bombing on a train that killed many. Her fate rests in the hands of PT Sir and Lovely, who belong to different classes of society, unaware that their lives are intricately intertwined in an unfortunate thread. Narrated by alternate POVs, the novel races in a rhythm that’s both breathtaking and intense, traversing across the murkiest side of right-wing electioneering and chest-thumping nationalism.
If anything, A Burning blurs the distinction between reality and fiction focusing on the similarities one finds in today’s India. Communal hatred, widespread lynchings, unlawful arrests of activists and protesters, muzzling freedom of speech and targeting minorities are few of the many themes Megha intelligently covers. Through its characters, the novel propels itself forward; we see immense will power in Lovely, a hijra who aspires to be an actor and knows Jivan, we see how power corrupts, and reduces one’s identity as PT Sir tries to lift himself up from the shackles of his meagre, despondent fortuity. Lastly, we see Jivan, confined against her wishes, a mere puppet at the hands of those in power, ready to be slaughtered.
We’ve seen gross misuse of justice which seems to be prevailing everywhere. Megha highlights the perils one is forced to undergo in the face of hopelessness, fear and utter disregard for human lives. While Jivan rots in jail, there’s a media circus and politicians baying to make someone their scapegoat for political gain and colossal power. The end was inevitable. I still hoped against hope, as one often does when faced with no option, that there would be a shift, a sudden unnatural escape route. But alas, life isn’t a series of happy coincidences, is it?
A Burning, as the name itself, burns with a fire so strong, one continues to feel its warmth long after it’s been doused.