Prelude To A Riot by Annie Zaidi: The novel captures the beginning of the end of a divided India.

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. 

Please read this book. 

The Great Smog of India by Siddharth Singh: A detailed account of the rising Air Pollution in India, its causes and what it entails for us.

Understanding the national crisis that is Air pollution and learning how to combat it.

Siddharth Singh in the first chapter of his book gives us a chilling statistic, “In sheer magnitude, air pollution kills over a million Indians every year- albeit silently. More residents of Delhi are killed, silently, every week than have been killed in terrorist incidents in the past decade. More Indians are killed every week by air pollution than have been killed in all India-Pakistan wars put together since Independence. Again, silently.” The book has come at a time when the city grapples with poor air quality, failing health conditions, and our refusal to change our lifestyle.

With air pollution rising with increased force every passing minute, the author has attempted to give us a clear account of the cause behind India’s decreasing air quality, the factors contributing to it and how human health is affected while exploring what pollution stands for and it’s origination. The author goes on to articulate and compare how other countries tackled their air pollution crisis; whether it was a success or not, and further delves into the administrative issues that have hindered policies, and action.

We’ve all witnessed the air quality in Delhi deteriorating, adding to major health risks, accidents, and overall discomfort to the citizens. It’s like the city is swallowed whole by a layer of black smoke. Singh says, “Air Pollution is a structural issue in the region, one that spans several states and countries. Particularly in the winters, a haze encompasses the entire northern Indian region.” The situation is far worse than what meets the eye but the people are so used to it, and no longer take it seriously. During Diwali, despite severe warnings, people stepped out wearing masks to burn crackers. It’s alarming how we’re ready to ignore the health risks and continue being in denial.

Singh talks about the impact economic disparity has on healthcare. Those belonging to affluent and upper-middle-class families can afford private healthcare, while those who can’t, have to deal with government hospitals that are ill-equipped, and understaffed and have little to no experience in treating patients. The dilapidated condition of the hospitals is not a myth. When working on a series, Vidya Krishnan, the health and science editor at The Hindu newspaper had to visit a government-run-hospital in Old Delhi. What she saw was alarming and terrifying. Not only did she spot cats roaming about in it, but they were also collecting placenta and biomedical waste to eat. If you think the horror ends there, you’re wrong. The urinal was placed inside the maternity ward. When she expressed her concerns to a doctor, she was dismissed and asked to mind her own business.  The poor continue to suffer, and with India’s rising air pollution, the future looks bleak.

It comes as no surprise that children are facing the brunt of air pollution the hardest. There several ongoing studies both in India and other countries. One such study revealed negative impacts on language and mathematics skills measured in fourth-grade children due to particulate pollution. Naturally, the productivity of the working force is affected, which in turn affects the economy.

The book ends with the author giving us a summarized version of The Great Smog of India, the factors leading up to it, and the solutions to combat the issue. It is commendable how much research has gone into the making of this book; it’s extensive and can be understood easily.

All in all, this book is a concise guide on understanding and learning about the big monster, air pollution, that has been looming and seems to only grow powerful.


Author: Siddharth Sing

Publisher: Penguin India

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 4.5/5

Format: Hardback

Pages: 199

Blurb:

Air pollution kills over a million Indians every year, albeit silently. Families are thrown into a spiralling cycle of hospital visits, critically poor health and financial trouble impacting their productivity and ability to participate in the economy. Children born in regions of high air pollution are shown to have irreversibly reduced lung function and cognitive abilities that affects their incomes for years to come. They all suffer, silently.
The issue is exacerbated every winter, when the Great Smog of India descends and envelops much of northern India. In this period, the health impact from mere breathing is akin to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The crisis is so grave that it warrants emergency health advisories forbidding people from stepping out. And yet, for most of us, life is business as usual.
It isn’t that the scientific community and policymakers don’t know what causes air pollution, or what it will take to tackle the problem. It is that the problem is social and political as much as it is technological, and human problems are often harder to overcome than scientific ones. Each sector of the economy that needs reform has its underlying political, economic and social dynamics that need to be addressed to make a credible impact on emissions.
With clarity and compelling arguments, and with a dash of irony, Siddharth Singh demystifies the issue: where we are, how we got here, and what we can do now. He discusses not only developments in sectors like transport, industry and energy production that silently contribute to air pollution, but also the ‘agricultural shock’ to air quality triggered by crop burning in northern India every winter. He places the air pollution crisis in the context of India’s meteorological conditions and also climate change. Above all, and most alarmingly, he makes clear what the repercussions will be if we remain apathetic.

Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra: If you could read just one book, let it be this one.

Digging into the past, through material objects carried by people at the time of Partition.

There have been countless books, articles, documentaries and journals written and published about the Partition that shook millions, and uprooted the very foundation of the people, its government and the country. But none comes closer to tracing the lives and emotions of the people present at the time of partition like Aanchal Malhotra’s book, Remnants of a Separation does. The novel in its entirety consists of 19 stories about people who were severely affected by the Divide that took place in 1947, and the aftermath of which, can still be felt by the people who were witness to the mass displacement. Aanchal through her book has presented a unique way of preserving and storing the memory of people from both sides of the border through objects carried by them at the time of Partition. Who would have imagined that a maang tikka, a ghaz, a set of kitchen utensils, a shawl or a peacock-shaped bracelet would be a testimony of a life that existed in an Undivided India? How a tangible object had the power to survive through years and years of dust, struggle, and loss? It’s unreal how the memory works. And it’s even more baffling how simple objects hold so much history in them.

Aanchal Malhotra in the introduction to her book writes, ’what is important and what I have attempted to do through each chapter, is to weave together a cohesive narrative of personal experiences vis-a-vis the past as well as the present. Memorialization is not a passive practice but an active conversation. By studying the evolution of personal histories from that period, we allow ourselves to unravel further and understand better the legacy of the Partition”.  After reading the novel, you understand the history and the real scenario of the Partition. We all know, how the seed of partition was planted, and how it was finally implemented but little do we know about the lives of the people caught in either side of the border. Mass killings that led to dead bodies being strewn across the floor like carpet, religious intolerance, loots, rapes, heavy displacement of people and property and the emotional upheaval faced by many have been articulately described in the book. The author herself encountered objects that had been carried by her grandmother over the years since partition and that lead to the unraveling of stories that were hidden in the minds of the people. She then searched for other migrants with similar stories and objects to share which then led to the making of this book; a first of its kind that uses material memory and objects as testaments to the lives of the people who owned them.

Remnants of a Separation is like a treasure-trove of stories, each unique and painful in its own. Aanchal’s writing is lyrical, woven delicately and carefully, lest the effect is lost.  The interviewees are all people belonging to India or Pakistan, their history of who they are and how they re-shaped their lives in the event of the Partition will make you realize the struggle and hardships of the refugees and how painstakingly they survived with little or no money in a country they couldn’t recognize as their own.

An oral historian and artist herself, Aanchal, has evoked deep rooted sentiments and emotions about one of the greatest tragedies to hit mankind and has portrayed it in a beautiful storytelling format that demands attention and recognition.

Aanchal says, “I realized that the Partition wasn’t just about those who crossed the border, but also about those who remained behind. It affected even those who never moved and never had to. It consumed even their lives, because they had remained amidst the chaos. They too had seen the riots, the violence, the disorder, but from a different perspective.

The events described by the people are extremely powerful and strong. The atmosphere at the time of Partition was that of uncertainty, fear, anger and of course hate of a different kind.  But amidst the rage and vengeance, are also heroic stories of Hindus putting their lives in danger for their fellow neighbors and Muslims ready to save their Hindu friends in times of need. In one of the stories named, ‘The Maang Tikka of Bhag Malhotra’, the author’s grandmother, narrates how at a time when the air was filled with intolerance, her Muslim helpers, would accompany them to school, even if that meant putting their life in danger. It’s just one of the many instances where humans defied religion and nationalism to put humanity first. Most of the refugees experienced horrific circumstances, which left a deep scar, one that never really fades but chooses to be a reminder of what was and will never be.  The Partition affected all those who had to flee in the dead of the night as much as it affected those who stayed.  As Mian Faiz Rabbani puts it, ‘Aap agar ek paudhe ko apni zameen se nikal kar kisi aur zameen mein daalenge, toh panapne mein samay toh lagega na? (If you uproot a sapling from its natural habitat and try to transplant it elsewhere, the chances of it growing and thriving are slim–and perhaps it may not live at all.)

 

Final Thoughts:

I think writing a review is narrowing down Aanchal’s years of painstaking research and hard work, and the only way to do justice to it is by reading the book and then re-reading it all over again. I had finished reading the book a few days back but was short of words to pen down a review. With a new perspective on the history of Partition, unique storytelling, and emotionally packed stories, Remnants of a Separation, is a book that you MUST read.

Human memory is fragile. We mentally store our experiences as memories. However, it is important to understand that our memory is not a recording device. It cannot be assumed that whatever one experiences will be stored as an exact and precise mnemonic trace of that moment, especially when time gradually begins to wear it down.

 

 

 


Author: Aanchal Malhotra

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Pages: 366

Rating: 5/5

Format: Hardcover