Book Review by Namrata

(Book sourced by Kitaab Bangladesh Editor-at-Large, Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: In Search of Heer 

Author: Manjul Bajaj

Publisher: Tranquebar Press, 2019

Manjul Bajaj’s In Search of Heer is a retelling of the historical tale of Heer Syal and Deedho Ranjha, the star-crossed lovers from Punjab. In her poignant narration, Bajaj manages to highlight some unknown aspects of the centuries old epic love story and leaves a reader content after reading what is otherwise, a sad story.

Before becoming a writer, Manjul Bajaj worked in the field of environment and rural development. Both her previous works, Come, Before Evening Falls and Another Man’s Wife were shortlisted for Hindu Literary Prize. She has also written two books for children.

We are in the year 2020 and yet the sheer number of cases of honour killing, especially in South Asian countries is horrifying. While the debate of who is to be blamed for this remains, the end result barely has altered since centuries. Taking the case of Heer Syal from the epic love story of Heer-Ranjha — she was supposedly killed by her own brothers for having fallen in love with Ranjha after both of them had decided to elope due to opposition from their families. Unbeknownst to them, death followed them to the end. Eventually they were united in death. Sadly, if you were to look at any of the honour killing cases since time immemorial, the story doesn’t differ at all. The fate of the lovers from different backgrounds remains the same to date. Centuries later today, when we are redefining love in various ways, one wonders how long will it take for such killings to stop.

Book review by Gracy Samjetsabam

paper lions

 

Title: Paper Lions

Author: Sohan S. Koonar

Publisher: Speaking Tiger (2019)

 

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.

by Neera Kashyap

Ikk ōnkār satināmu karatā puraku nirapǎ’u niraver akāl mūrat ajūnī sepàng gurprasād*

Kartar Kaur murmured words from the holy book under her breath, aware both of their sacredness and the constriction in her throat that refused to leave. Sometimes she could continue repeating the mantra without a break but mostly she would falter, grope for the next phrase and lose it in the shortness of breath. Even when the repetition went on for a while, her mind struggled to invoke onkar, the one constant. For the one constant remained Harpreet …her Harpreet…who had disappeared without a trace twelve years ago. A ‘suspected militant’ was all that remained of his identity. Except in her heart…her gentle son, a poet at heart, a philosopher in his soul.

The festivals and festivities of the village had long ceased to interest both her and Gurmeet Singh since the disappearance. They no longer went anywhere, and nobody asked. She knew that many mothers had lost their sons in that terrible decade following the desecration of their holiest shrine, Sri Darbar Sahib. But at least they knew their sons had been killed by the police or was in their custody. Their families had been able to establish it through investigation, through law courts, through eye witnesses.

There were some mothers who had not known. Like Kartar Kaur, Bibi Baljit had been clueless about her son Hazara Singh’s whereabouts. But ten years after his disappearance, she had learnt from the formal investigations ordered by the Supreme Court into these disappearances, that he had been cremated by the police at the Durgiana mandir crematorium in Amritsar — his name identifiable in black and white in the crematorium records.

Reviewed by Gouri Athale

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.

Review of Hamraz Ahsan’s, Kabuko the Djinn in The Express Tribue

“When you were born, wailing and shaking with rage at your expulsion from the comfort of the womb, did you know, in your tiny infant brain, the exact trajectory of your life? Had you already decided in which events would shape you and how your personality would be? Had you decided on who would be your first love and who would be your last? Is that how it happens with humans? I have been very curious to know, you see. I am Kabuko. Kabuko the djinn.’’