Sohan S. Koonar is a physiotherapist by training but his love for story-telling has bagged him the Judges Choice Award in the Toronto Star Short Story Contest and the first Burlington Library Literary Excellence Award. His self-published novel Karam’s Kismet got mentioned in sixteen dailies and periodicals in the US. He is a founder of a multi-clinic company and an inventor of international patents too. Koonar has lived in four continents — Asia, Africa, Europe and North America — and spends the year in his family homes in Canada, Italy and India. Paper Lions, published by Mawenzi House in Canada and Speaking Tiger in India, is a novel that explores the rich culture and history of Punjab and its role in the coming of age of India as a nation.
Paper Lions is an epic multi-generational saga of Punjab. Koonar draws on a vast canvas to present a picture in pre- and post-independent India. The novel is a five-part story of what transpires in the inchoate state of Punjab from 1937to 1965. Raikot, located a few kilometres from Ludhiana, is the locale. While the narrative revolves around three main characters — Brikram, Basanti and Ajit — and their families, it also weaves a yarn of rural Punjab in those times.
The book explores a myriad of characters — some from nomadic tribes, such as the Bajigars and some are just villagers — the dairyman, the matchmaker, the astrologer, the Giyani (Sikh wise men), the politicians, the publicists, the head of the cattle yard, the bootlegger, the snake-catcher, the Brahmins, the school headmaster and more. The characters reveal the customs and mindset of the people based on caste and clan, their religion, and the trials and tribulations that time and history brought forth.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fere! And gie’s a hand o’ thine! And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught, For auld lang syne.
Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns,1788
It is that time of the year again when we bid adieu to the old and party to welcome the new. And this year it is not just an old year but the old decade that ends – this new year we start the third decade of the second millennia. With much goodwill, as the poet Burns says, we asked some writers who have featured on our pages to contribute two of their favourite reads from this year and they obliged… A huge thanks to all these fantastic writers who share what their favourite books have been this year.
We start with Suzanne Kamata, an award winning writer from Japan, who has been a part of our magazine and the first Best Asian Short Stories in 2017. This is what Suzanne wrote: “One book which particularly impressed me was Under the Broken Sky, a novel-in-verse by Mariko Nagai, about a Japanese girl stranded in Soviet-occupied Manchuria. Although we often hear and read about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Asia, we rarely hear the voices of the innocent bystanders, like children. Nagai manages to distill complicated and difficult events into crystalline free verse. Although this book was written with middle grade readers in mind, I would recommend it to adults as well.
The rusty old bus skidded to a halt with a screech of brakes. The engine stopped with an ear-splitting sound. Exhaust fumes were winding into dark clouds. It was a routine picture. There was, however, plenty of room for controversy as to whether it could be called a bus. It was little bigger than a minibus and much smaller than an ordinary one. It looked like a tin-can with a turtle neck. People would call it murir tin. This grotesque shape was made by a local carpenter-cum- bus mechanic who went by the name of Dilu Mistry. Rumour had it that he was capable of making a jet engine only out of the motor accessories. However, the proof of the pudding was never in the eating in Dilu Mistry’s case. If ever asked, clever Dilu would wear a mysterious smile on his face that left a cryptic message that his hidden worth was one of the unsolved mysteries of the locality. Dilu Mistry’s name was so strikingly inscribed on the turtle-neck’s body that it would tickle your fancy on sight. But the optical attraction would fly out of the windows after you had squeezed into it through the narrow door. Jam-packed with passengers the motor turtle used to move so sluggishly that it would take the whole day to cover the distance of about fifty miles between Rangpur and Gaibandha suffering at least a couple of engine failures. It might have amused people to call it a buffalo-cart, but they were left with no second choice.
Haripada would travel between his home in Mithapukur and workplace in Rangpur once a week. Every Thursday he would come home in the evening, stay one day and two nights and the next Saturday go back to his workplace. He was a lecturer in English at a non-government college on the outskirts of Rangpur town. He joined the college immediately after he had completed his Master’s from Dhaka University. He could have got a much better job in Dhaka, but he missed it for no fault of his own. Dhaka on and after 25thMarch (1971) was blazing. The horrific Operation Searchlight was stalking through the city. Mujib had declared independence of Bangladesh and been taken prisoner. The marauding Pakistani armed forces had overrun the capital and unleashed a reign of terror upon the defenceless people. A mighty eagle swooped on the innocent chicks.
When the buffalo cart driver with a stubbly beard braked hard, the passengers dozing fitfully woke up with a start. But Haripada was not one of them. Nor was he wide awake. Seated by a window he was brooding over his life. How things had been out of joint over a few days! The son of Kalipada Master and the grandson of Bishnupada Master had to be Haripada Master. People would call him Professor. Lecturers of non-government colleges were professors in the eye of the common people. But Haripada was not happy with his position. He was not willing to take up his ancestral profession. He had rather a mind to serve in the civil service and had the ability too. But a violent storm from the western sky had dashed all his dreams.
“Get off the bus. You, the bloody Bengali. Get cracking.” A throaty voice boomed like a rumble of thunder.
A Tribute to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on his 150thbirth anniversary
By Ratnottama Sengupta
“By 1930 all of India and its British rulers too were uttering one name with awe: Gandhi. One evening it came to my ears that the Mahatma would reach Patna at 7am the next morning, spend the day in the city and leave by the Punjab Mail at night.
I did not sleep well that night, I was up at the crack of dawn and left home 5am on the pretext of getting a book from a friend.
But I could not get anywhere near the Patna railway station, which was teeming with people who had arrived before sunrise. It was no different along the path he would be driven down. I hung around at one end of the platform, eyes glued to the exit gate.
Policemen on horseback trotted past me. A police van was parked close by. Those patrolling the platform carried bayonets and batons. Because of my green years, and my small built, I was allowed to inch ahead. From time to time, the sky was rent with the cry of ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai! Long live the Mahatma!’
All of a sudden, perhaps to steel myself, I started to whisper ‘Vande Mataram*! Vande Mataram!‘ As if on a cue, the man next to me cried out aloud: ‘Vande Mataram!‘ The crowd roared in an echo: ‘Vande Mataram! Vande Mataram!!‘
About seven decades ago, the colonials who swept through Asia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and earlier started their retreat. They had lost so much money fighting each other over their spoils during the World Wars that they could not afford the upkeep of their colonies.
One of the aftermath of the colonial rule in Asia was the formalisation of national boundaries. The Indian subcontinent was split into India and Pakistan( West and East, which later disengaged from the West and evolved as Bangladesh).The angst that started during the Partition of the Indian sub- continent generated violence that took more than 200,000 to 2 million lives. The figures remain disputed.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi opposed the Partition that came as an edging of India’s Independence movement. In 1947, he told Rajendra Prasad,”, “I can see only evil in the plan.” Rajendra Prasad went on to become the first President of India and the pacifist father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was shot by Nathuram Godse, the fanatic Hindu nationalist. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, gave in to the Partition as he saw it as a necessary step to accommodate the growing divisions with Jinnah, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the Muslim League.
Urdu with the Nastaliq script was adopted as the national language of Pakistan and Hindi written the Devanagari script became the national language of India.
Hindi and Urdu both started as dialects of Hindustani. Both the dialects continued to diverge both linguistically, politically and culturally. Hindi drew words from Sanskrit, and Urdu from Arabic, Persian and Chagatai, an extinct Turkic language. Culturally, Urdu was associated with Muslims and Hindi with Hindus.
Title: Divided by Partition United by Resilience Editor: Mallika Ahluwalia Publisher: Rupa Publications India (2018) Pages: 210 (Paperback)
The title says it all, these are the first person accounts of people who suffered the partitioning of their provinces (now called states) and of some, like those from Sindh and Northwest Frontier Province, who lost even that province/state.
An important and positive contribution of this book is that it reminds us that our history does not end with gaining independence; that history continues to be made even after 1947. The anthology has stories mainly on the fallout of partition of the Punjab, a few from Sind and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and just one story from Bengal. Yet, this is the most touching, heart wrenching, made worse because it is so rarely heard. There ought to have been more, since Bengal was first partitioned in 1905 and then again in 1947.
For most Indians born after 1991, partition is believed to have affected only the Punjab, because that is a well-documented story and it happened in one stroke, around August 1947. Bengal, on the other hand, had as great a trauma in 1947 but refugees came in waves, going on well up to 1971, which leaves Sindh, or Sind, where there was no partition. The entire state was given away so that those who came as refugees from Sindh lost not only their property, their culture but also their entire state, making them state-less. Bengal and Punjab got some part of their old states so they didn’t lose their identity totally in the form of a home state.
This collection of short stories, told most of the time in the first person, gives the impression that partition happened across many more than the two states; it makes no differentiation between Sindh and the NWFP (which weren’t partitioned) and Punjab and Bengal, which were.