In Search of Heer isn’t a love story. Well, it is, but it isn’t a typical love story. It may have been inspired by an old-fashioned one, but Bajaj’s Heer and her Ranjha and everyone else in their lives, are her own people. Yes, the story’s skeletal frame has been maintained. That Bajaj hasn’t strayed away from. What she has done is to hit the reader at every turn of the page, with some thought-provoking, profound, and most intense prose.
In Search of Heer is aptly titled. It is about Heer. All about her. Everything, and rightly so. It is about Ranjha. Yes, without a shadow of doubt. It is about their love and everything else that follows, but it is mainly about Heer and the women who possess the narrative. Bajaj does a fantastic job of not only excellent storytelling, but also of being able to turn the narrative on its head. She gives us perspectives of a crow, of pigeons, and of a lamb when it comes to the story and does it very convincingly.
The book is about so many things. There are so many layers to it. I am stumped what to say and what not to say, but I shall try. Feminism is at the center and heart of this novel. From Heer to her mother to Heer’s friends, Sehti (a very pivotal character according to me), and others who come and go are so strong, sometimes weak, but rooted in a sense of independence – even though not fully realised at times. Heer’s feminism as portrayed by Bajaj is just natural – that’s the way she was raised by her father Mir Chuchak – to be whatever she wants to be, and live life on her terms. At the same time, through another lens, Bajaj takes us to a place where feminism doesn’t exist, and is brutally trampled on in the name of religion, and ironically women’s safety. This happens through the villainous uncle of Heer, Kaido Langda.
Longing is another recurring theme, expressed without any drama or theatrics. There is one section in the book when Heer speaks of months as they pass, as she waits for Ranjha and that to me is the highlight of the book. Longing also expressed through people’s inability to get out of circumstances – Sehti’s love for Murad, Seida’s love that is not acceptable, and the longing of so many to just live and let live.
Manjul Bajaj’s In Search of Heer is a modern retelling in the sense that it breaks all barriers of telling the original story. It also sticks to the skeletal system, but creates her own flesh as she moves along. There is so much that will strike home – everything that fits in the world we live in, we are a part of, the magic realism, the surreal, the impossibility of love, the love that doesn’t give up, and love that ensures people are free rather than bound to each other.