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 cause and effect of a revolution

Jasmine Days by Benyamin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I just finished reading ‘Jasmine Days’ by Benyamin and was surprised to see that last year’s JCB Prize Winner was actually a translation of an Arabic novel by Sameera Parvin originally titled ‘A Spring without Fragrance’. I know people who have read the book would know this but those of you like me would be taken aback at the power of a good story. For this one moment, I actually took a step back and wanted to thank God for creating such deft translators. And then my surprise was corrected by this article where Benyamin clarifies that the ‘Arabic translation’ was a literary device he used where the reader entered his fictional world right from the cover page and remained enthralled till the translator’s note.

Coming back to the novel, having read Cairo by Ahdaf Soueif, I sort of felt I had a hang of where this was going but I was so, so wrong. Despite all that was televised and all that you heard and read about the role of social media, there are certain images and phrases about the book that you can’t take out. Who is the oppressor, who are oppressed? Who is right, who is wrong? An entire generation is silenced and yet another grows older with anger. When will there be peace and tolerance or forbearance and forgiveness? There are so many questions that plague your mind as you go through Sameera’s journey. All she wanted to be was a radio jockey in a foreign country her father adopted to ensure they lived a better life in Faisalabad. All she ever wanted to be was honest, and the saddest part is that her honesty is not expressed to the people who matter most. She was quelled before she could raise her voice.

I’m eagerly waiting for the translation of his latest novel – Al-Arabian Novel Factory – which is a twin novel or we can say a continuation of where Jasmine Days ended. An excerpt is available in the hardcover copy and online and it’s almost torturous; the wait!

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