Winterson says, ‘Adopted children are dislodged. My mother felt that the whole of life was a grand dislodgement. We both wanted to go home.’ A harrowing childhood of being locked in a coal-hole, punishment by means of sleeping on the front porch all night, undergoing exorcism for having an affair with a girl, and spending most of your life feeling like you didn’t belong. With sheer courage and honesty, Winterson in her personal memoir, talks about being adopted in a Pentecostal family bordering on religious fanaticism. Mrs Winterson, as the writer addresses her mother throughout the book, was suffering from depression, fighting demons of her own and waiting for the Apocalypse. She believed she was brought into the world to suffer.
Mrs Winterson despised happiness, as the word in itself was tainted with sins. Perhaps, she didn’t know how happiness felt like so she stopped her daughter from pursuing it herself. Jeanette’s love for the written word was soon stamped and punched to the ground by her mother who burnt all her textbooks. It didn’t deter the author because she started memorizing the texts. How can her mother snatch the words that were now written in her soul?
The title of the book is taken from Mrs Winterson’s admonition upon finding out Jeanette’s affair with a girl. She retorts, ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’
But the author also talks of the way words saved her from herself. The more her mother tried to drown her, the more she felt liberated. The power of language, of stories, of escape, wasn’t lost to her. The first half of the book is a tale of a wounded childhood, of the desperate need to belong somewhere. It’s also filled with lessons learnt the hard way. The second half, according to me, was written hurriedly as if the author was trying to see how it ends. Winterson went on to becoming a successful author, falling in and out of love before finding the ‘one’. All her life, Winterson felt, she wasn’t loved. How could she? Her biological mother gave her up for adoption when she was six-weeks old, and she was brought up by a tyrant who couldn’t see her as human.
The quest to find her biological mother, Ann, turns into a rigorous path as Winterson comes to a painful realization; she maybe be adopted but her identity is shaped by her upbringing. She feels as far away from her own mother as she did with Mrs Winterson. She says, ‘ I notice that I hate Ann criticizing Mrs Winterson. She was a monster but she was my monster.’
Despite the violent childhood and a series of ‘lost loss’, this memoir ends with acceptance. It directs you to march ahead, to always seek love where ever you go.
In a remote Norwegian island, a sea-storm has wiped out 40 fishermen. As Maren watches the sea swallow all the men including her brother and father, the women are left to fend for themselves. As their days pass in a lull, haunted by the ghosts of those drowned in the reckless storm, the women learn to carve a life for themselves until three years later a sinister figure arrives at Vardo, uprooting their very existence. Absalom Cornet has arrived from Scotland, where he has built a kind of a reputation of burning witches. He is accompanied by his wife, Ursa, who is young as much as naïve, unware of the man she has married, and clueless about life in Vardo.
Soon enough, Absalom demands for strict adherence to his rules. He believes Vardo to be possessed by witches, where women who roam freely, and run entire houses on their own, are untouched by god. Ursa is terrified of her husband’s authority and utterly lonely till she finds solace in Maren. Absalom’s growing power and blind belief by some women of Vardo lead to a devastating result.
The Mercies is a feminist story of the threat women pose even when they’re just existing in their own skin, of how unchecked power and systemic oppression has led to abuse and ostracization of one gender. It’s a reflection of how rumours and hearsay can have catastrophic results. Kiran’s writing is hauntingly beautiful; it’s visually appealing in a sense that I could smell the sea breeze, feel the force of the waves as they crash and submerge in a rhythm, and the way the women powered through despite gut-wrenching loss.
A few days have passed since the lockdown was announced. We’re all counting days, talking about a life post-pandemic, spending our time making future plans of what we’re going to do once the worst has passed, waiting to see which restaurants will see hordes of people stuffing their faces with anything that’s not home-made food, which companies will witness a spike in sales for things we don’t need. If anything, self-isolation has been unrelenting in its pursuit of teaching us to live without things we thought we needed.
The current scenario has aggressively dismantled the very structures on which we built systems to keep us going. Our lifestyles are heavily influenced by new-age media, the increasing effect of capitalism, of a desperate need to always be ‘doing’ something. Social media will tell you to never give up, to always keep striving towards your goal, to sacrifice sleep if you ever want to accomplish anything. Ever since college days, I’ve kept myself occupied with more than I could handle. While staying busy in this day and age is a blessing (this is also a man-made construct), I no longer know how to deal with boredom. I do not know what to do with this ennui. People, in order to avoid feeling bored, attempt things that are bizarre as much as they are unnecessary. Our need to always have something to do, whether mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, or binge-watching a show for the 20th time, or killing ourselves over jobs that are impermanent, have created a disconnect from the self. It’s worrying how even during a pandemic we’re supposed to be working, keeping our productivity at optimum levels, making sure we’re still ticking things off our list, that failure to finish said tasks sends us spiralling deep down into an abyss of guilt and self-doubt. Why can’t we sit in our rooms without distraction? How long can we go without checking our phone before we combust into meaninglessness? Why is there a continuous need for incentive? The need to overcome our inherent existential crisis often manifests through over-indulgence in any form of stimulation. Social psychologist and philosopher, Eric Fromm believes boredom to be ‘the most important source of aggression and destructiveness’. According to him, our constant search for thrill, for adventure, for anything to fill this huge hole in our lives, is not a solution but merely a distraction. We’re going around in circles to attain the unattainable.
The word ‘boredom’ was used by Charles Dickens, as an emotional state, in his serial, Bleak House. That was the first-time boredom was described as a state of being, although the word ‘boredom’ originated way back. It wasn’t till the 19th century that scientists started taking an interest in this weirdly existential phenomena of nothingness. The 21st century or the ‘pop culture’ era can shrug this feeling of as ‘meh’. Anything that is dull or tedious or which single-handedly brings down the energy level is MEH.
But is boredom lethal? I think not. As Jenny Odell, author of, How To Do Nothing, writes, ‘I consider “doing nothing” both as a kind of deprogramming device and as sustenance for those feeling too disassembled to act meaningfully’. Odell’s book aims to disengage people from the attention economy, to curb economic insecurity, and help realize the potential of doing nothing. Being at home, it’s natural to feel bored. It may exacerbate feelings of existential anxiety but doing nothing is as essential as productivity. When you start acknowledging the stillness as equally important to your life without assigning any deep-rooted bias, these feelings wither, they change shape, and you begin to feel as if a weight has been lifted, helping you further to stay afloat.
We’re going through an unprecedented time where our resources are being stretched, human lives are being lost and put at risk, and our economy is on the verge of collapse. Perhaps, during this time, not doing anything is how we cope. We cope by sitting by ourselves, staring into the night-sky as it transforms into morning light, we cope by watching how our neighbors spend their evenings crowding on their terrace, and we talk to our family—we notice how our parents seem to be drifting into the inevitability of ageing, we watch our siblings, who are still in school, deal with a crisis not part of their curriculum, and we observe. We pay attention to how humans are adapting to change, how the will to keep moving forward surpasses the unpredictability of our lives and we learn. We learn to shed our inhibitions, we unlearn societal constructs of prejudice, of class, of color. We learn to just be. When all this is over, and it’ll be over soon, let’s hope we wear the feeling of nothingness as second skin, embracing it and letting it sit with us.
In this memoir, Yashica with great sincerity reveals how she spent most of her life running away from her reality, one she didn’t even question. She writes, ‘ I never saw caste for what it really is—the invisible arm that turns the gears in nearly every system in our country. It’s been working silently for so long that we have stopped noticing it, even though it exists all around us.’
The act of changing one’s appearance, picking up new habits and trying to lead a double life became pretty common in the caste system of Modern India whereby lower castes started to adopt upper-caste traditions to get ahead. The term, Sanskritization, was popularized by M.N.Srinivas which was as true as it was unjust. Yashica Dutt spent all her life, hiding her ‘Dalit’ identity from her school friends, up until she went to Columbia to pursue her Master’s in Journalism. Her mother, Shashi, wanted to leave no trace of their ‘Dalit’ identity, didn’t want to carry it along with her or pass it to her kids in fear of them being ostracized from the society. She didn’t want their Dalitness to stick to them. In an attempt to be considered as a fully functioning part of the society, she started changing her lifestyle, wearing saris and buying expensive clothes for her daughters to pass off as upper-caste. Yashica narrates how her mother left no stone unturned when it came to giving her children a good education and ultimately a chance to have a normal life even though the whole ‘act’ of passing off as upper-caste soon dissolved into oblivion due to financial restraints—something all Dalits including Yashica’s family struggled with most of her life .
In this memoir, Yashica with great sincerity reveals how she spent most of her life running away from her reality, one she didn’t even question. She writes, ‘ I never saw caste for what it really is—the invisible arm that turns the gears in nearly every system in our country. It’s been working silently for so long that we have stopped noticing it, even though it exists all around us.’ We may not want to accept the caste supremacy still very much prevalent and spreading like wildfire here in India but many Dalits continue to face the brunt of systemic oppression that has eaten the very fabric of a just nation. Yashica hid her identity to escape systemic caste discrimination. Rohith Vermula’s death sparked nation-wide protests demanding an end to systemic caste-based discrimination and institutional oppression. His death also ignited something in Yashica. She wrote a Facebook post, revealing her Dalit identity, which came as quite a shock to people who knew her. For her, this was no longer being afraid of her identity, one she worked so hard to push out of her existence. It was like the fog had cleared, and she could see herself for who she really was.
Yashica points out cruel treatment meted out to Dalits, the glaring flaws in not just the Indian education system but nearly every job sector, the entire narrative around reservation, lack of accessible opportunities, zero representation of Dalit voices in movies, arts or academia. Furthermore, she sheds light on Dalit woman who are not only suffering caste violence but have no bodily autonomy, a recurrent patriarchal notion of women not having claim to their own body. Upper-caste men use mutilation, public humiliation to silence Dalit women. It’s just another way of making them know their place in the society. Drawing parallels from black women across US, who just like Dalit women, feel under-represented by feminist movements, Yashica writes that upper-caste women only seemed to focus on issues that directly affected them, refusing to acknowledge the struggles of Dalit women.
We grow up being told segregation exists. We’re already given a tier in the hierarchal system of caste. It doesn’t come as a surprise that prejudice, discrimination & oppression are elements of a skewed society that only seems to be exacerbating. During my teaching years, I would often be asked what my religion was by a number of students. Their questions came from a place of innocence, but mainly, from conversations happening at home. It wasn’t enough to tell them I was ‘Muslim’ because not only would I be met with surprise but some would take it further to ask, ‘Sunni or Shia?’. I never took it as an offence and would always tell them it doesn’t really matter, does it? After which they would drop the question and forget about it. Caste system has seeped into every layer of our being, taking shape and molding itself in subtle ways. You might say our family doesn’t believe in caste but it’s just your privilege talking. To assume, caste is a thing of the past, is shirking off accountability and giving up your privilege.
All of us need that adrenaline rush once in a while. When your heart is pumping so fast, it’ll almost come out of your mouth. Thrillers are my got-to reads. I’ve been a sucker for psychological thrillers since the past year but I wouldn’t mind the classic cat and mouse chase either. If you’re looking for a read that’s immersive as much as it is ‘I-was-at-the-edge-of-my-seat-throughout’ kinda read, you’ve come to the right place.
I’ve listed some of my favourite reads, some I read a few years ago, some I read last week. Please note I haven’t read every thriller out there and I’ve barely even scratched the surface, but hey, I’m getting there, one book at a time.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides: When the psychotherapist Theo, wants to treat Alicia, the woman who shot her husband five times, the entire spectacle becomes the talk of the town. Alex’s novel had me hooked right from the beginning. Alicia stopped talking right after the murder. No one knows why she did it. But Theo is hellbent on finding answers. I can’t believe this Alex’s debut novel. I thought I had all the answers but I was so wrong! I’ve written a detailed review here: https://www.instagram.com/p/ByaHuODg9OU/
2. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinka Braithwaite: The title is self-explanatory here. We have a killer, heck we even know who the killer is. We have a knife, we have the murder weapon. So how is this a thriller? At the heart of the novel, the author has highlighted how manipulative and toxic familial relationships can be, the abuse one tends to tolerate and accept under the guise of sibling love-the myriad ways in which we are ready to defend those close to us. It’s a unique take on a thriller and I absolutely love how the author has pulled it off.
3. The Flower Girls by Alice Clark Platts: I read this book sometime last year and I was completely surprised by the twist. I was buddy reading it with a bunch of other readers & we spent hours discussing the ending. And it’s exactly the kind of book I live for. From the start, the author plays with your mind. When Laurel and Primrose kill and torture two-year old Kristie Swan, they become infamous. Mainly because they’re 10 and 6, respectively. Laurel is imprisoned but Primrose is considered too young for the crime and given a new identity. 19 years later, another child is goes missing in the very same place where one of the flower girls is staying. Secrets start tumbling out and the past resurfaces one again. I would highly recommend picking this one up.
4.) Lullaby by Leila Slimani: This book creeped the living insides out of me. It was unsettling on so many levels and is possibly my worst nightmare come true. Since I absolutely love torturing myself, I go out of my way to read books that keep me up all night. The book starts with the death of two children at the hands of their Nanny(not a spoiler). The rest of the story is a build-up of why and how.
5.) See What IHave Done by Sarah Schmidt: Based on a real life event, this murder that took place in America of 1892, is regarded as one of the most notorious murders of all times and rightly so. Sarah’s novel is a reimagining of the brutal murders of the Borden family. It is said that Lizzie borden, daughter of Andrew & Abby Borden, axed her parents to death. Till date, no one has been able to identify the true killer. There are several theories and documentaries on the same. It’s a great mystery/murder thriller. I loved reading it.
6.) The Wonder by Emma Donoghue: You know when you read the blurb for a book and you know you HAVE to read it? This is one such book. It’s a psychological thriller like never before. 11 year old Anna O’Donell is considered a miracle child because she hasn’t eaten anything in months but seems to be a healthy child. A young nurse, Lib Wright, is sent to the impoverished village to discover the truth. Tourists are thronging to take a look at the child, the media wants to sensationalise the news & her parents wouldn’t a thing. Read it because you’ll be blown away by the ending!
7.)Dark Matter by Blake Crounch: I have never read sci-fi before this & I didn’t know what to expect. But boy was I in for a surprise. Blake Crouch’s book takes you into the world of multiverses, quantum physics, alternate realities and so much more. He makes it so simple for you to understand without having to google every single thing you’re reading. Reading the book was almost like watching a movie; the descriptions were so vivid, the characters so well sketched and the plot hitting all the feels at all the right places. His next book Recursion is next on my list and I’m pumped.
8.) The Devotion of Suspect X: Keigo Higashino is one of the finest Japanese authors when it comes to thriller & psychological drama. I can’t recommend this book enough mainly because it deals with emotions thriller’s usually don’t. At the heart of the novel, it’s a love story and the ultimate test of your faith and devotion to the one you love. The gripping plot alongside the twists will make you flip pages as if your life depends on it. While we’re at it, I would also recommend Malice and Newcomer by Keigo.
9) My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing: A married couple want to keep the spark alive in their relationship by indulging in habits that are quite unusual. Nothing wrong with that, right? Except their ‘habit’ involves murder. The ordinary suburban couple bond over a list of people they could possibly murder. Samantha downing’s delicious debut novel takes sinister crimes to another level. Her next book, He Started It, is coming out in April this year which is also a psychological thriller. I am super-excited.
10.) Call me Evie by J.P.Pomare: A young girl is kept hostage in a beach town in New Zealand by a man who calls himself Jim. In a disturbing premise, this girl has no memory of what happened in the past and her reason to be here. There’s a dark shadow looming around when it comes to the identity of this person keeping her captive. This girl has done something so terrible back in Melbourne that people are looking for her. She’s scared, sedated and kept in this remote place for her own safety. J.P.Pomare created a promising story, with several layers of suspicion, that I devoured the page in two days just to get to the bottom of all this mess. It’s unputdownable.
11.) Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall: This debut novel took me by surprise. With themes of obsession, loyalty, love, and desire, Araminta weaves a complicated story of Mike and Verity, two people insanely in love with each other or so we think so. Mike has moulded himself into an ideal man, someone who is worthy of being with Verity. He knows she’s in love with him, if he tries a little bit harder and understands all the signs. Except Verity is married and is not returning his calls. It’s a darkly twisted novel of love gone wrong.
12.) Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh: Anna is trying to come to terms with the death of both her parents. A year ago, Caroline Johnson, ended her life in a manner that was similar to that of her husband. Police say it is suicide but Anna is sure it’s murder. The answer is sinister at best & involves leaving behind everything Anna has believed so far. Just when you think you know where the story is going, Clare proves you wrong. I See You and I Let You Go are other stunning psychological novels by the author.
13.) Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh: Eileen is a young woman of 24 who suffers from extreme lack of self-esteem, spending most of her life in self-loathing. Stuck with an alcoholic father who forces his usual qualms on her, Eileen dreams of escaping into the unknown and start her life afresh. Eileen works at a juvenile prison where a girl named Rebecca arrives, changing her life forever. Without even realising Eileen is dragged into a crime, she has nothing to do with. Ottessa’s characters are unreliable, flawed and as real as humans can get. It’s a disturbing story accompanied by characters you will loathe but which will keep you turning the pages.
14.) The Good Girl by Mary Kubica: I had one of those moments where after finishing the last chapter, I had to take a few minutes to calm down. When Mia’s boyfriend doesn’t turn up at the bar, she decides to leave with a stranger, Colin. But things soon start to go terribly wrong when Colin keeps Mia secluded in a cabin instead of dropping her back safely. Detective Gabe and Mia’s mother leave no stone unturned to find their daughter but things seldom go as planned. When confronted with the truth, cracks appear in their relationship as a family, and things are not what they seem. Mary Kubica is a brilliant author whose books I always enjoy. You can also check out Every Last lie by the author which I equally loved.
15.) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo(Trilogy) by Steig Larsson, trans.Reg Keeland: My first tryst with thrillers was with TGWTDT. I was in high-school when I stumbled upon this literary goodness and devoured the series within a week. It’s your classic cat & mouse chase except it’s more gory, dark and twisted. My favourite bad-ass fictional character, Lisbath Salander together with journalist Mikael Bloomberg investigate the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families. This book is an embodiment of what a thriller should be like.
I hope you like these recommendations and I’ll be back with some more! Meanwhile, do drop in your favourite thrillers. I’d love to have a look.
What happens when women take justice in their own hands, going after their abusers, harassers, rapists–doing to them what men have been doing to women since centuries? What happens when the onus of protecting women lies no longer in the hands of the law? Women have been the victim of gruesome rape, of constantly being stalked by serial molesters, of having their agency defined by the standards men believe to be right. It’s no surprise then that years of systematic abuse and conditioning women continue to tolerate becomes too much to take in. The likes of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, MJ Akbar, many journalists and celebrities who have been profiting off of the exploitation of women working with or under them has been brought to light. The question still remains: what measures have been taken since the Nirbhaya case and thousand other rape cases to make sure the accused got what they deserved? The answer lies in the fact that women, once again, have faced the brunt of being raped. They risked their lives outing their abusers at the cost of being ostracised.
When Rahul Satyabhagi belonging to one of the most affluent families in Badrid Bay was accused of raping Avni Rambha Ahuja, the members of the elite and friends of the Satyabhagis and Rambhas were divided. Rahul was vindicated at the trial and Avni moved to another country. This didn’t stop him from suing her and from the media from making him the flag-bearer of Men’s right activism. But a recent sting operation done on Rahul exposed him as guilty by his own admission. He not only bragged about the rape but joked about doing it again.
Rhea Arora Raj had been childhood friends with Rahul Satyabhagi and Avni Rambha. Their families were close-knit but it only lasted until Rhea’s parents filed for divorce. Rhea joined her dad’s business when she was still in school. Soon enough, she climbed the corporate ladder with her name on every achievement board. By the time she reached college, she was already handling majority of her dad’s work and launching projects of her own. That’s where she met her lifelong friends and confidantes; Hitaishi and Amruta.
The sting operation broke something inside the three friends; Rhea, Amruta & Hitaishi. They were appalled at Rahul’s audacity, of his lecherous mindset. They no longer wanted to be mute spectators to such a travesty. Here’s when they decide to do something to stop these rampant attacks on women. They took matters in their own hands & set things straight. Not really knowing where this would lead them, the trio set off a precedent in the city and all over the country. Suddenly several rapists were found mutilated and tortured. News broke out about a group of vigilantes who were out to attack men. It’s ironical how the society was now worried about rapists more than women being raped. Bidisha has handled the narrative with sensitivity making sure she drives her point across.
Things get even more interesting when the police, now desperate to catch someone, drag a young girl into the police station levering chargers of first degree murder on her. Urvi Nanda’s case becomes a sensation. Here I would like to mention how fantastically Bidisha wrote the court-room scene. From the journalists to the lawyers to the police, her characters seemed real and very believable. I raced through the pages because of how intense and captivating her arguments were.
The Rape Trial shows us what happens when women do to men what is being done to them since centuries. I don’t know what the moral stand or real solution to this problem is. The story is violent, gory and harsh but depicts the double standards our society seems to be reeling in. There were a lot of scenes that were uncomfortable, a lot of areas that are neither white or black but completely grey. But these are the times we live in. The author evoked feelings of anger, hurt, helplessness that countless women have felt and continue to feel. Their agencies being controlled or completely taken away at the whims of men. The power structure is so skewed, and if we’re taking a few steps forward, we’ll also going back a thousand times.
The book reads like a thriller with several twists and turns coupled with excellent writing that’ll keep you hooked. The Rape Trial by Bidisha Ghosal makes for a great read. I have been reading the book since the past couple of weeks and now that I have finished reading it, I already miss it. Such is the power of words.
The Little Prince is a novella that was written by Antoine de Saint- Expert in 1943. It has since been translated into several languages & has made its mark as a classic. Although meant for children, TLP carries poignant themes of love, loss, loneliness, and human nature. I don’t know what I was expecting while reading this book but it had a profound impact on me.
A narrator, who is a pilot, crash lands on Sahara & only has 8 days of water supply left. Here’s when he meets a little boy, Nicknamed ‘little prince’ who belongs to a tiny planet called B-612. While the narrator is busy repairing his plane, the little boy recounts his life on his pint-sized planet, where he spends all his time cleaning minuscule volcanoes and removing unwanted seeds.
The tone and narrative technique written from the perspective of the pilot add a sombre, measured pace which works for the fantastical and unrealistic elements the author was going for. The author derived inspiration from his own life when in 1939 his plane crash-landed at the Sahara desert. Due to severe dehydration, both Antoine and his co-navigator, began hallucinating and started seeing mirages. They were finally rescued by a group of nomadic Arab people.
I’m not going lie, I was really emotional after reading TLP. Maybe it was the subtle theme of childhood nostalgia, of growing up, learning life’s nuances & unlearning them after a point. It’s a little book but there’s so much to unpack here. The beauty of reading is that you’re allowed your own interpretation. You’re allowed to acknowledge the book for what it makes you feel.
Read it because you’ll understand life so much better.
Oscar Wilde in his widely read and often critiqued book explores themes of aestheticism, vanity, of inherently flawed individuals, and hedonism.
A book that explores art, beauty, and the moral grounds one is faced with, of corruption and its consequences, the dark side of humanity, and how one can become maniacal in their idiosyncrasies, and temperament. Oscar Wilde in his widely read and often critiqued book explores themes of aestheticism, vanity, of inherently flawed individuals, and hedonism.
It’s difficult to review a book of this nature. A lot has been discussed and written about it already, and rightly so. We have Basil Hallward, who paints a beautiful portrait of Dorian, and is enamored by his beauty, and gentle nature. Dorian Gray, a charming lad, with a sheltered life, tumbles into the company of Lord Henry, and here’s where his perfectly happy, non-problematic life turns into a devil’s playschool. He continues to live a shallow life, reveling in richness and lavish dinners, tainted by the superficiality of the world, and getting deeper into the pits of self-obsession. His narcissistic personality overpowers his ability to form normal relationships. Dorian ceases to age while something cruel and bizarre starts happening to the painting.
Oscar has written a harrowing tale of a man who never ages. It’s sinister at best, mocking in its approach to how beauty surpasses moral intellect and art. The book also harbors themes of eternal youth which reminds me of Doctor Faustus. I think it also partially touches upon homosexuality, which is a brave attempt, considering the time it was written in. It’s a tragic commentary on the human soul, and how it’s easy to manipulate individuals, reflecting on the power art holds and how it’s so misinterpreted.
I had a perfect picture with my little brother (who is not-so-little anymore) but I realized I need to stop worrying about perfect pictures and be more candid. This is me making him pose with the book. He was cranky the entire time.
Mass polarization and hear-say instead of careful deliberation is the tone of today’s India. Mirroring the dysfunctional, unreliable & highly fractured world, Prelude To A Riot takes us through the lens of the past, the series of events that followed it, ultimately leading to our downfall.
Annie Zaidi’s novel captures the anxiety, fear, injustice and othering of certain sections of society in this slim book of merely 192 pages. Situated somewhere in South-India with banana and pepper plantations, two families—one Hindu & Muslim who are estate-owners, reside. The seeds of communal tensions have been sowed, now with intolerance and refusal to consider humanity as a foundation, with a dash of bigotry and ideological differences, this plant of hatred and indifference takes shape. Prelude to A Riot, written through soliloquies of characters, shows the trailer, before the actual movie. Riots are not only limited to burning of vehicles, destroying anyone or anything that comes in between—but years and years of conditioning, years of being made to feel inferior, through an attack on one’s faith, an assault on one’s identity. Discussing a number of socio-political issues with utmost sincerity, Annie brings to light several privileges that come at a high cost and the push and pull between ‘them’ and ‘us’
The current political scenario has collectively disappointed us as citizens, targeting and casting one religion as the ‘other’. In one of the instances in the book, Appa, an estate owner resents Muslim and refers to them as ‘outsiders’ despite them living in the state for several decades. This hit home. I had to stop reading because for the first time I realized this wasn’t only fictional, that this is the reality we’re living in. I can’t describe the feeling of helplessness that took its course right after. Mass polarization and hear-say instead of careful deliberation is the tone of today’s India. Mirroring the dysfunctional, unreliable & highly fractured world, Prelude To A Riot takes us through the lens of the past, the series of events that followed it, ultimately leading to our downfall.
The anti-narcotics team had arrived. We were about to go through another rigorous round of security check. Sheru, one of the sniffer dogs, was sun-bathing when he heard his name being called, after which, he jumped excitedly and proceeded towards us. If you’re a fully functional human being with a heart, the sight of a dog in uniform will melt you. We took out our cell phones but were soon rebuked for doing so. This was serious business and Sheru had work to do. Walking in and around our luggage, which were quite a few, Sheru moved on to other passengers. At this point, we were getting late. We had to cross the Wagah Border by afternoon and we hadn’t even boarded the bus that would take us there. To add to our woes, it had started raining. Having grown up in India, watching parades being held on Independence Day at the Wagah Border, always seemed mystical—something out of a movie. Except this was real life, and this wasn’t a drill or an extended joke. My siblings and I had imagined a lot of things we’d be able to witness at the border. It was our first time, it was going be a historic moment for us all. Naturally, we were thrilled. The whole idea of crossing the border by foot is, in my opinion, a little hilarious and maybe unreal. How can a single man-made line divide entire countries? How can the fate of so many people be decided, depending on which side of the line you were in? I guess, my questions were about to be answered.
At one point of time, we were in the no-man’s land— that little space before you step into another country, not belonging to either India or Pakistan. A single step forward would put an official tag of which country I was standing in. It didn’t mean anything, it didn’t deter where I was from, it didn’t take away my roots. Standing there under the biting Amritsar rain, waiting to cross the border, it didn’t feel too magical or heroic. Instead, I was trying to absorb, to understand the seriousness of the situation. I was blown away by the high-rise walls, the beautiful golden dome that you see, with ‘India’s Line of Defense’ written in bold right at the center. In between dragging our luggage and getting anxious about just everything in general, we forgot that our crossing the border coincided with the lowering of the flags’ ceremony, a daily military practice, at the Attari-Wagah border, carried by both India and Pakistan’s security forces ever since 1959. There were people from both sides of the line, who had come with their friends & family, to witness the parade. There were the national flags of both the countries, dancing in the rain, looking at its people, and what had become of it. Despite the terrible weather, the stands were filling up fast. You could see colorful umbrellas forming a canopy at opposite ends, a kind of shield, a form of defiance. Humans have unwavering resilience when they put their mind to something. It was time for us to finally walk our way into another country, passports ready. My grandmother was given a wheelchair, chaperoned by one of the coolies who helped her cross the border at lightning fast speed.
It’s a joke in the family now; of us parading in the middle as we dragged our luggage to the other end while the crowd sat at both sides watching us march helplessly.
I couldn’t stop noticing a woman in her late 50s, who was alone, carrying a dozen bags filled with fresh produce, a few belongings that she would be needing and sheer determination on her face. Maybe she was a vendor, making a living selling fruits & vegetables. She painstakingly tried lifting her heavy bags onto the trolleys right after crossing the border. To avoid a crowd, the security was tightened. The woman was struggling to assemble her belongings and she asked my brother for help. We were busy collecting our luggage to be put in trolleys so that we could proceed towards immigration. We looked back to see the woman give her blessings to my brother for his help, smiling, her eyes moist—forming wrinkles that made her look older. She waved at us and went her way. Did she belong to India or Pakistan? It didn’t matter, not at that moment. There were so many like us, wanting to see their relatives, with longing in their eyes & joy at seeing their loved ones after an unsparing journey.
This wasn’t going to be the first and last time I was to experience human empathy in all its glory. Belonging to a family who suffered the aftermath of Partition, I know well enough, the limitless ways in which people have extended their support throughout. It’s times like these when humans surpass themselves, with only kindness and empathy as their deus ex machina.
We may be divided, we may have forgotten true nationalism, but the kindness of our hearts cannot be bought, it cannot be traded or diminished. We may lose everything one day but empathy? It’s embedded in stone and it’s here to stay.