Title: Prelude to a Riot
Author: Annie Zaidi
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
“Prelude to a Riot” by Annie Zaidi is a book that needs to be read and reread. It is a book of our times, for our times, and while you are reading it, there is melancholy, a rush of sadness – because we are all trying to hold on to something, a sense of secularism, of brotherhood, of living that isn’t dictated by what you eat or how you pray.
The book is in the form of soliloquies, newspaper columns, letters to the editor, and what goes on in Garuda teacher’s classroom – in a town in South of India – an unnamed town – that is the center of what’s to come, a town that is at the cusp of tension, the rage that is silently brewing – a riot about to happen.
Prelude to a Riot is about the silent emotional riots that take place. Instances of a Muslim girl being forced to eat pork by her Hindu friends, of friends divided and a bright student who fears his family’s safety and just wants them to leave. There is no other side. I tried very hard to gauge if there was the other side to things – but there isn’t. When there is a riot, one community, one religion, one side – always suffers the most, and that sadly is the one of the minority, the outnumbered, the ones whose agency has been taken away from them.
This book is about the current socio-political climate – of the not-so-secular-environment we are living in – of Hindus being pitted against Muslims – this book is about what happens before it all explodes. Of how we pick sides, of how we behave, of how all our relationships are tethered to which side the wind blows, and what comes of it.
Zaidi’s writing hits the bone. It cuts through, and it hurts. That’s the intent. And yet there are moments of empathy, of kindness – far and few in between, but never veering from what she wants us to read and feel. The soliloquies give us some insight to the mind and hearts of characters – and yet it is only one-sided, there is no dialogue, or room for conversation with anyone else – no one to tell what you are going through, and all sentiments are simmering under – way under, till they find a way through tools of anger and resentment.