Tragedy strikes the nation when the Prime Minister of the country takes the bullets from her own bodyguards. Unfortunately that is not all. The assassination unleashes a series of tragedies – the bitterness and suspicion between two communities always known to live in harmony; the undercurrents between two people who thought there is nothing except love between them; and scars and memories that refuse to leave the “victims”…
Vikram Kapur brings it all in a sensitive portrayal of what could have just been a sweet tender love story of two youngsters, engaged to be married. Set in Delhi of 1984, the story begins with Prem and Deepa who come from Sikh and Hindu families respectively. After initial apprehension from Deepa’s father – who still bears the scars of Partition in 1947 – he agrees to go ahead with the engagement. As the two families become involved in the wedding preparation, the news shocks them beyond words. As events unfold in the aftermath, it shows through the micro lens of these two families, a larger potrayal. Prem, a victim of anti-Sikh riots comes out not just bruised but bearing the scars and full of anger. He is torn between Deepa and allegiance to his religion.
By creating an inter-religion love angle, the author traces the events that gripped the capital in the winter of 1984. For those having witnessed that horrific season, it even serves to refresh the memory. It shows how in the aftermath the everyday-ness of life is threatened. Prem’s father, a doctor, no longer commutes to his clinic all alone. He car-pools with his Sikh neighbours. Property dealers hound them with phone calls with cheap sales deals, assuming they will flee the city. Prem’s younger sister who is at the receiving end of taunts at school and the cold distancing by her friends, is shaken after a frightening phone call. It captures the lives gripped in perpetual fear, where they have to rely on a non-Sikh servant to fetch milk and vegetables. In the backdrop of rioting, the author shows how it becomes impossible to extend solidarity to a fellow human being and how at a crucial moment there is nothing but just concern for one’s own life. Prem is being escorted out safely by his father and refuses to help a desolate Sikh-woman who is being held by the rioters.
The narrative balances these events and the equation between the couple, and bringing us to contemplate what will happens to the couple…
The blurb sums up the sentiments of the book and the author very well. “This memorable book captures the turbulence of those times, while chronicling the ways in which continuing to live means coming to terms with many kinds of deaths.”
The first two chapters could have been more enjoyable had it not been for the attempt at flowery prose. This tones down later but I couldn’t help wonder on the inconsistency of the editorial hand. The gripping plot thankfully makes up for the minor inconvenience at the beginning.