“Anirudh Kala’s novel offers a poignant commentary on the turbulent connection between religion and terrorism.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Punjab is known as the Land of the Five Rivers – however, post Partition, the state was divided between India and the Pakistan with the result that both countries got two and a half each. Anirudh Kala writes about a turbulent time with a depressive doctor as his protagonist, a reclusive man who lives on a hill and who has broken up with his wife. One day the doctor has an emergency patient, a Dalit girl called Shamsie and from there starts an on again off again encounter with the dark vivacious girl and her boyfriend Bheem. There is an uncertainty about the boyfriend part which readers might pick up on from the beginning.
The two young Dalits weave in and out of the story turning up like bad pennies – Shamsie says ‘coins – at unexpected points in time. They are trying to find a career for themselves in the dance bars of Mumbai, thinking they will get over caste discrimination. In the backdrop is an old village with archaeological ruins and the city of Chandigarh with its golf loving populations.
In the meantime the Nuxalbari troubles in Bengal have led to the evolution of the ‘boys’ in P3 as Kala calls it. The doctor’s house solitary house is a magnet for the terrorists and his car is stolen – the result as is usual is a visit to the police station where a bribe is needed to register the case. Kala’s story is slow getting into its stride but it builds the details – the corruption that underlies the system and the fact that no one is sure who is on which side. Ultimately what comes through is that whether it is religion or politics the results are the same. Changing a religion does not remove the bars of caste and the ironies and darkness at the heart of the system remain the same. Those who survive are lucky.
Added 12th January 2022