On Books & Reviews

Darkness: Contemplating on Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas

 Bhisham Sahni's TamasThis was supposed to be the second book I read for the New Book Readathon in September. With tight deadlines and life spiralling out of control, reading time was limited to a sentence here and there each day.

But I’m glad I could finally get down to completing this book.  Over though, its after-effects aren’t. I have just been constantly thinking about the title of the book – Tamas – which means darkness. There couldn’t be a more beautiful title to sum up this book.

The plot is set in a village near Taxila, in undivided India, just before Independence. The British are on their way out but the Indians haven’t stopped revering them. It’s easy to instigate a fight between age-old relationships when everything is simmered with religion. It’s easy to make the damage permanent when political parties are divided on religion and not merit. It’s easy to force one’s point of view down someone’s throat when their life depends on it. Has this changed? Have situations changed? For certainty not. Our country is still divided on religion politics. The Congress is accused of being pro-Muslim whereas the Muslim League can simply be replaced by our own right-wing fanatics now.

The darkness that was cast with the British – divide and rule – is so sharp in our nation’s history that even after so many year’s of independence it still looms in the shadows questioning every decision we make. I always thought was there a time when people co-existed in the same space rather than have little pockets of similar communities in the same city. When I read Indian language literature, I know that there was a time when they did live together and I sort of begin to understand why these little pockets exist. Not because of mistrust but because of fear. Fear for one’s life in my mind is the worst fear to live with. I sometimes wonder how our previous generation faced it.

Coming back to the book, it’s lengthy and has many layers. As the ‘riot’ progresses and the way the book ends, you are left to wonder who really instigated it and for what? What did they get by destabilising an entire generation of people? As the Babri Masjid verdict will be announced tomorrow at 10.30 AM, I hope our nation has grown slightly more sensible…


On Books & Reviews

The dignity of old age

The Music of Solitude by Krishna Sobti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘Much later she thought, I could have phoned and thanked him. No. Let this remain unsaid. I’m feeling special. I’ve just received the flowers of narcissus for a gift. These bloom on the mountains where silence swims in the air.’

Having sat on the review for almost a month and thinking and rethinking about the novel, I don’t find a more apt and lyrical paragraph in the entire book like the one above…

Translated by Vasudha Dalmia as The Music of Solitude, Krishna Sobti’s Samay Sargam is the story of Aranya and Ishan – neighbours in a Delhi complex but diametrically opposite to each other. Aranya is a feisty writer, living life on her own terms, vocal, impulsive and rebellious while Ishan is calm, disciplined, respect social norms and believes in the family institution despite having no one who calls on him.

The novel revolves around their daily lives and their little interactions. How each one is content in their own cocoon yet dependant on the other for emotional comfort. The beauty of the novel is that at no moment do you feel pity for these two for being alone or ‘deserted’. They are alone but they are definitely not lonely. They enjoy their space and solitude, they even need it to sail them through the last years of their lives.

To truly understand this, you need to see Aranya and Ishan in contrast to the elderly friends they visit regularly – the old widow, the former charismatic writer or the old man who was having an affair. Each saddened, bound by social norms and restricted by their children in contrast to these two highly functional emotional beings. It’s at that moment you decide how you want to grow old. Do you want to be like Aranya or Ishan, independent, happy or do you want to die worrying what the world thinks of you or what your family has reduced you to?

The sense of dignity in old age is what I admire about the novel and I believe that every young person who lives with or has ageing parents should read this once.

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