Tag Archives: bangladesh

Book Review: This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition. Curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh

This Side That Side Title: This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition: Graphic Narratives from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh
Curated by: Vishwajyoti Ghosh
Publisher: Yoda Press with Goethe Institut
ISBN: 9789382579014
Genre: Graphic Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What is home? What is its meaning? Does it lose its value when disassociated from it? When torn away and not being able to look at it and then made to rely only on memory to experience what it feels like to be home. What is home then? What was home during the Partition of India? Two countries were formed no doubt. The herald of a new beginning some would say and yet it was disastrous for so many. Perhaps, it has reached a stage that while it exists in our subconscious, we yet are afraid to acknowledge its horrors. The fact that it happened – it took place and claimed lives is something too strong for us to give it its due and then when we fail to do that, we have art to remind us. All the time.

Art makes us see what we do not want to. It makes us hear what we choose to become deaf to. It compels us to not turn our face to the other side. With this in mind and maybe more, Yoda Press in conjunction with Goethe Institut has published a brilliant graphic anthology on the partition of India and Pakistan, and also the creation of Bangladesh, called, “This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition”, which is curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh.

The collection is unique not in the sense that it is in the graphic format, but perhaps because it aims to store memories in the form of lines and drawings and black and white. The shades of grey have no need to be documented. They are there – all-pervasive and daunting. There are twenty eight pieces in this collection – written and illustrated by over forty people. A work of greatness, in the sense of the contribution and most empathic – sometimes bordering sentimental, however don’t those times deserve that? Memory doesn’t let go.

I remember my grandmother telling me tales about partition, when she and her husband came to India. They had no choice, she would tell me and I didn’t understand then. I was but a child and now while reading this book, all I could think of was her. Displacement. It almost seems but a word till you face it. The stories in this collection look at every facet of Partition – whether it is in the most Bollywood of manner as portrayed in “An Afterlife” between two lovers who must part or in the way of the survivor as documented in “Know Directions Home?” depicting how a tribe moved from Pakistan to India and made a home for itself.

It isn’t that because of the form of expression being different (graphic + words in this case), the impact is any lesser. You end up feeling the same. At some level, only a South Asian can understand this book and at another level it speaks universally to all those people who have left home or searching for home. Vishwajyoti Ghosh has done a commendable job of getting these people together and somehow while reading this book, you know that they share a common emotion – yearning and longing. It just doesn’t let go of you as a reader. “This Side, That Side” is not just another graphic novel. It has the effect of pulling you right in and making connections that you never otherwise would have. A read to be savoured. Page by page. Illustration by Illustration. Word by Word.

Book Review: The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

Title: The Newlyweds
Author: Nell Freudenberger
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670921843
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

When people from two different cultures marry each other, there is a lot at risk. The knowing that adaptation would have to be the order of the day at some point is very difficult to come to terms with. Not only that, but also the everyday living becomes a herculean task, which then becomes something to deal with. To make a life together is something that one needs to think of as top priority. This is the theme of Nell Freudenberger’s book, “The Newlyweds”.

The book is written more from the perspective of the wife than the husband, but then I am sure the author had her reasons for doing so. The plot: Amina and George are not your typical American couple. Amina is a Bengali woman from Bangladesh, flying to Rochester, New York to marry an American she met online. She will go to any lengths to bring her parents to America to live with her. From the first page the action in the book begins and lasts throughout with immense force, depicting not only cultural differences but also emotional ones.

Nell Freudenberger has created a poignant and real drama of how couples live today. The story is mainly about Amina and her dreams. The means and methods used by her to make them come true. I was a little disappointed that George’s character was explored fully, and thought that maybe he had a lot to say and do, which would have only added to the book’s overall experience.

Freudenberger’s world is fascinating to observe. The daily on-goings between the couple and the others who are a part of their lives, are interesting to watch. The Newlyweds is an interesting read. It is a portrait of a peculiar marriage and yet there is so much more beneath that. What do we share? Who do we trust? What secrets do we want to disclose? The Newlyweds is a love story, a story of alienation, a story of wanting it all and sometimes not getting it all. It is a book that exudes emotion on every page and does not get too sentimental about it. A great read for sure.

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Book Review: The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

Title: The Good Muslim
Author: Tahmima Anam
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780670082896
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
PP: 304 pages
Price: Rs. 499
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It isn’t easy to write a sequel, specially when the first book was a resounding success. Of course comparisons will be made and sides will be taken. How can the author not expect that? The fact is that Tahmima Anam doesn’t have to worry about that as The Good Muslim is as brilliantly written as A Good Muslim. One can read The Good Muslim in isolation as well, you don’t have to read the first book, however since the premise is that of a trilogy, it is best recommended that you do.

We meet the children again and their mother. We meet them after years and the Bangladeshi War of Independence contines. Rehana has regained her two children after years and that is where the story begins – from Rehana’s subconcious and what she feels while Sohail and Maya move in and out. Maya is now a surgeon. Sohail is a fundamentalist – well almost. The book is about Sohail and Maya surviving the war and living with the consequences of their actions. There is a depth to it told in deftly controlled prose. It is once again beautifully written and yet more devastating because it is sparse. There is no over-writing here. Anam deals with the consequences of war: the killings, the rapes, the fate of war babies, the shame and the injustices.

Maya does not know how to react to Sohail’s religion persona. She cannot recognize him anymore. How Sohail changed from a carefree brilliant student to a troubled soldier, scarred by his experiences and unable to help the woman he rescues and with whom he has fallen in love. Rehana on the other hand is older and happy that her family is back together, however not in the way she had imagined. It is a tale of fractured and broken lives and how sometimes one doesn’t know where to pick up the pieces and start again.

Anam’s tale is vividly told and yet though the book and subject is a tough one, she doesn’t let the book get heavy. There were times when I thought that may be the book was getting preachy, but I was wrong, as the next sentence immediately shook me up and that defines brilliant writing in my opinion. The Good Muslim is even better than the first book. A must read.

Book Review: A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

Title: A Golden Age
Author: Tahmima Anam
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143415374
Genre: Literary Fiction, War Fiction
PP: 328 pages
Price: Rs. 350
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

War novels like Gone with the Wind, Sophie’s Choice, The Book Thief to name a few, capture the stresses and choices that ordinary people are forced to make as the brutality and deprivation of war, occupation, captivity, that change the ordinary circumstances of life into a living nightmare. This book is no different.

The book starts with a prologue where the widow Rehana sits at her husband’s grave and tells him that she has lost the children. Because of her poverty, her husband’s brother and childless sister-in-law have taken custody of Sohail and Maya, Rehana’s 7 and 5 year olds. Even though they are gone for only a year, Rehana feels in her heart the yearning gap of that year and devotes herself totally to her children.

Every year, they have a party where they celebrate the children’s return. March 1971 was no different. The party had become a routine, the same guests, Rehana’s neighbors, a tenant family from India, the gin-rummy ladies and her daughter’s friend. They are celebrating and optimistic of the future. But within a few short weeks, tanks rolled into Dhaka, refugees start streaming out, massacres occur in the city, and her children are drawn into the resistance movement. Life is anything but ordinary when Rehana is drawn into the resistance by her son and daughter. Faced with her guilt at how she lost them for a short while when they were young, and the secret of how she was able to bring them back, Rehana goes along with their efforts, hiding guns and supplies in her home and harboring and caring for a wounded major that at first she regards as a nuisance.

She would like nothing better than to retreat into her routine, her shell, sitting at her late husband’s grave and speaking to him, and lying to him and herself about the normalcy of her life, ignoring her daughter’s cold shoulder and indifference, and her own guilt at the shameful acts she took to bring her children back. But as the weeks went by, taking care of the major who only greeted her with silent eyes, she begins to open up to him, telling him of her secrets, as if to atone for them and he silently bears her secrets for her. The war tears Rehana’s circle apart, lives tragically destroyed, destinies changed. Rehana meets her former tenant in a refugee camp, a walking shell, with nothing left inside her except sorrow, for the choice she made, she’ll pay with tears the rest of her life.

Given these intensely personal depictions, readers can’t help but be invested in the struggles and sacrifices made by the brave individuals who populate the pages of A GOLDEN AGE. Some revolutionary acts are brazen and bold — blowing up part of a hotel, attacking the capital’s power grid — while others, like Rehana’s own, are quieter but no less sacrificial. “Rehana wondered what her sisters would make of her at this very moment. Guerrillas at Shona. Sewing kathas on the rooftop. Her daughter at rifle practice…. She imagined the letter she would write. Dear sisters, she would say. Our countries are at war; yours and mine. We are on different sides now. I am making pickles for the war effort. You see how much I belong here and not to you.”

Rehana’s greatest hope, through all her moments of self-sacrifice and surprising personal discoveries, is that she and her family can go back to what she has called their “ordinary, unexceptional lives.” In her debut novel (the first in a projected trilogy that will explore the creation of Bangladesh), Tahmima Anam brilliantly illustrates that, in times of war, even a humble life like Rehana’s can become extraordinary and exceptional — and will not easily be forgotten.

This Is Not That Dawn by Yashpal

 

Jhootha Sach was serialized almost 50 years ago, by the most popular Hindi magazine then, called Dharmyug. The effect it had was huge: People looked forward eagerly for the next installment. Much of the Hindi reading populace of the country had for the first time read an authentic and humane narration of life in Lahore and the trauma of the exodus that had struck Punjab. The author, till then better known as a revolutionary and a writer, instantly carved a niche for him among literary giants.

Today, for those of us who are aware of the trauma that the partition of the country inflicted upon them or their grandparents or their parents for that matter, Yashpal’s Jhootha Sach, christened as “This is not that Dawn” in its English avatar, is not just a novel dealing with the cataclysmic event. It is rich in its writing and vision – it takes you to the same places with a new perspective. This, according to me is the only definitive fictitious account of the Partition and its aftermath.

I still remember as a child watching Buniyaad – a serial about the partition and wondering: Is this what my grandparents went through? My Nani (maternal grandmother) used to tell me endless tales of the life she led before Partition and it almost seemed unreal to me. Her world was cut into two – Pre and Post Partition and she like many countless humans would live like this. We tend to take everything for granted, well almost, including freedom. Our right to express and our right to do what we wish to. It is almost like we have no value for it, and may be we don’t. Our grandparents would think differently though.

It is not easy for me to chronicle a huge masterpiece such as this into a single review of close to a 1000 words even – considering the book is close to 1119 pages long, and not once did I get bored reading it.

Jhootha Sach narrates the events of Partition through the lives of the people who suffered a thousand deaths before they were actually torn away from their motherland to become sharnarthis (refugees). The story of their transformation from sharnarthis to purusharthis in the second volume is equally riveting, more so because the author, like his characters, is hard-pressed to provide some moral moorings to an increasingly amoral society in the new nation. It does not place a judgmental value to decisions made in those times – probably because they did not seem best in such a situation, nor does it try to evoke feelings of any volatile nature. What it does best is present the truth.

Jhootha Sach is a huge canvas that needed not only large brushes with huge strokes but also the delicate handling of a watercolour artist. It is a sad movie that runs into reels and the one that you so riveting that you don’t want it to end.

Thus, he deals with the politics of Partition wherein the dubious role of the much-lauded Khizir Hyat government and the British bureaucracy in Punjab is exposed as also deftly examining the socio-economic composition that gave birth to inequities and consequently the need felt by Muslims to have Pakistan. As Pakistan begins to emerge as a distinct reality, many of the Hindus remain baffled, clutching at straws of hope, arguing that since 80 per cent of the property of Lahore was held by Hindus and the vast majority of the industrial workers in Amritsar, Jalandar and Ludhiana were Muslims, the creation of Pakistan was an unrealistic goal.

Yashpal breathed life not only in the characters of Bhola Pandhe’s Gali but also brought alive a life, where the neighbours demonstrate their solidarity and concern in matters of both life and death. The first part of the novel, Homeland and Nation, narrates the lives, hopes and fears of the characters in the shadow of the powerful tempest that was about to strike and when it does overwhelm Lahore and the rest of the Punjab, it fathoms the pits of degeneration and depravity that mankind descends.

This is Not That Dawn; Yashpal; Penguin Modern Classics; Penguin India; Rs. 599