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The Good Girls – An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro

The Good Girls - An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro

Title: The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing
Author: Sonia Faleiro
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0670088829
Genre: Non-fiction, Gender Studies, True Accounts
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Faleiro had heard about the Badaun killings on Twitter, in the year 2014, as did most of us. It shook her to this extent that she decided to go the village of Katra in the Badaun district in Uttar Pradesh where the death of two teenage girls, who were also cousins, took place. The picture that circulated on social media was that of them hanging from a mango tree, whose memory is etched in so many minds and hearts. Though momentarily forgotten perhaps, it can be conjured in an instant. Between 2014 and 2019, Faleiro interviewed everyone connected with the deaths to produce a story in which there are different perspectives – each struggling to make themselves heard, each hustling for credibility.

Whether it is a cousin who claimed to have seen the girls getting kidnapped by Pappu Yadav, a 19-year old from the neighbouring village. Or whether it was someone else who had claimed to have spotted Pappu with the girls (who are known as Padma and Lalli in the book). Or whether it was the parents and relatives of these girls who didn’t act soon enough, scared that their honour will be at stake. Well, at the end of the day, the truth is that the girls were dead.

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro is not just an investigative book or a “non-fiction novel” as some would seem it to be. It is a chronicle of what women go through in the country on a daily basis, and this isn’t just restricted to one region or is a function of being educated or not. The brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in 2012 is a testament of that fact. The Good Girls is a book that holds no judgement. It is about the facts, and yet Faleiro’s writing is so strong and insightful that you cannot help but feel overwhelmed in most places while reading. The idea that two teenage girls – children really, died before their time. The idea that they could not lead full lives. The idea that we give so much importance to factors such as caste, honour, about how a girl should be and should not be, that we forget to consider life – the very basic essence of life and living.

Sonia Faleiro’s book is about the India that is still struggling with so much – patriarchy, lack of education for women and girls, poverty being the biggest issue (which most , maybe even all politicians turn a blind eye to or very conveniently use it to their advantage), about lack of faith not only in the judiciary system but also in the workings of the police and safety that cannot be trusted, and about the way we treat our women and men at the same time.

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing – just the very title says so much. Something that is so chilling, and yet only so ordinary that it could take place on an almost daily basis (and maybe does) and yet apathy is supreme. Sonia Faleiro also without taking any side goes to the heart of that apathy and indifference through this work that chronicles the brutality, that takes place more on a mental and emotional level. Faleiro’s writing is to the point. All facts and suppositions (that sprung from various narratives) are laid out for the reader. Everything is in plain sight. The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing never lets us forget that at the heart of it – of all that occurred, two teenage girls, two children really, with so much life, and possibility and a future, lost their lives to patriarchy and its machinations.

Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction by Roshan Ali

ibs-endless-search-for-satisfaction-by-roshan-ali

I remember reading this book when it was first long listed for The JCB Prize for Literature last year. Given all that has happened since, it feels like another lifetime. Having said this, I reread it this month and in a very quiet, almost unassuming manner, this book touched me. I think I read it with a different point of view the first time around, or I do not know what was so special about it this time, or perhaps I had forgotten all about it, but that’s hardly the point. Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction in more than one way felt like my story. Or at least similar.

Ib is perhaps not a nice young man to know. He is self-absorbed, only worries about himself (sometimes not even that), is a wayward in more than one way, doesn’t know where life is to take him, and yet so endearing, real, and only too brutally honest. His father suffers from schizophrenia. His mother moves from one day to another – lost in her thoughts and the world of being a caregiver. His maternal grandfather, Ajju, is mean and loves that Ib’s family is dependent on him for almost everything. And in all of this, there is Ib – growing up – trying to grow up – trying very hard even not to, and sometimes just trying to make sense of the world he has been thrown into.

Ib doesn’t have friends. Ib prefers looking at everything in great detail. Ib knows what he wants and then doesn’t. Ib craves for human attention, company, the tenderness as he calls it at one point, and he wants it all on his terms. Ib’s journey is mundane, it is of the everyday living, it is of boredom at work, of not suffering the banal in college, it is of preferring one’s company to that of others, and living as honestly as possible.

Roshan Ali’s city – the one in which Ib lives and comes to inhabit closely could be any city – any at all, and yet it is only one. The one that Ib and the readers come to love. Roshan Ali’s writing is unapologetic – he speaks of things that are uncomfortable – of death, sex, his father’s condition, and in all of this the complexity of living.

Ib is not an easy person to understand or to write about is what I think. At the same time, what I loved about the book was the minor characters that aren’t minor – the mother, the friend Major, Annie, Maya, and even a sadhu thrown in for good measure. There is a lot taking place, and as a reader I revelled in all of it.

Nothing happens. Really. Almost nothing happens in Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction. There are revelations but nothing happens. Death happens, loss, grief, and yet nothing at all. In all of this everyday living, there are glimpses of hope in all of the melancholy, in all of the anguish – to be able to live and be.

Undertow by Jahnavi Barua

Estrangement. What an odd choice of word to define the not-so-closeness to a person who once was your world. Really an odd choice of word. There is loss, and yet it doesn’t feel like that. It sounds almost clinical, like a surgery has been performed on it, and the word that remained was this. Estrangement, in its various forms.

“Undertow” by Jahnavi Barua is about relationships that go sour, that are no longer what they used to be, that can be mended, relationships that can start over. Loya is twenty-five and has never met her maternal grandfather, Torun, who lives in Assam in a Yellow house all by himself. His wife Usha, the matriarch and an intimidating figure has long gone – it’s been four years. Loya’s mother Rukmini was banished from home, twenty-six years ago, in 1983, when she decided to marry Alex, the love of her life. Since then, a lot changed. Loya arrives at the Yellow House to meet her grandfather Torun and this is where the story begins.

Undertow is not just this though. It is so much more. Nature is described by Barua in a manner that is delicate, nurturing even, and personal. She speaks of clouds, of the sky, of a crow pheasant, of views, of walks, of how humans and nature can co-exist, and she also speaks of climate change most subtly. I loved Barua’s prose that is stable, though there are a lot of emotions simmering underneath, it is on the surface of it still as a lake during summer. No movement at all, and yet the story propels in the direction it has to. A voice of its own, almost.

Relationships aren’t perfect. Neither are people. Relationships are imperfect. They take a lot from you, but also somehow are fulfilling in their own dysfunctional manner. Undertow is all about such relationships – jagged, brittle in the mouth, and where snatches of happiness are far and few and in-between. Yet, there is much comfort in this short novel. Food being one of them. Barua writes about food with much affection. The fish and the fish seller, the five courses of Assamese food, the vegetables, and even a simple cup of tea evokes yearning for all the food. You just want to eat it all as you turn the page.

Feminism is also at the center of all of this – and yet it is not as palpable. Even then, it questions so many things along the course of the novel. Loya’s feminism vs. that of her mother’s. Usha’s brand of feminism and how it brought about emotional destruction in its wake, and even Sita the house help’s brand of feminism that is silent and speaks volume.

The secondary characters see the very same relationships so differently. From Romen, the cook to Biren, the handyman in a sense, to lives that converge and melt into the other lives, without realising that we are all perhaps just connected one way or the other.

“Undertow” shines on so many levels. Barua’s craft is surreal and yet it stings quite appropriately when it has to. Her writing is calm, restless, and disquiet – ample with love and loss, reminding us always that estrangement can be overcome. Over and over again.

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh Title: Train to Pakistan
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143065883
Genre: Literary Fiction, Partition Literature
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This was my third reading of Train to Pakistan, and every time I read it, there is an ache that seems to have gone but hasn’t. I grew up hearing some stories of the Partition from my grandparents, and at the end of each story, I would see vacant eyes, eyes that said a lot and yet did not want to go beyond what was said. The memory of it all would haunt them all their lives.

Train to Pakistan is perhaps the first book that comes to most minds when speaking of the partition of the country. If not the first, then at least second. The starkness, honesty, and empathy of the novel has spread over decades in terms of being relevant (sadly) and continues to do so.

The plot is about a fictional village named Mano Majra and its residents (Muslim and Sikh), and how they are caught up in the turmoil of Partition, how it affects their relationships and lives. It all starts when a train filled with the dead bodies of Sikhs and Hindus arrive in Mano Majra. Singh gives us this but doesn’t make it the centrepiece of the novel.

Train to Pakistan to me is all about human nature, its relation to religion, its connection with the concept of life and death, and how suddenly it is either each man for his own or coming together of people in times of crisis. What I loved the most about this novel (even in the third read) was that Singh never loses his grip on empathy. There is this sense of brotherhood, of community, and yet in the face of the larger event, people seem helpless. Or are they?

Train to Pakistan is about common people. It is about Government officials who will also use every trick in the book to get their way out. It is about religious extremism and the madness that comes along with it – the madness that will never stop following you.

The sad part is that it is relatable even today – in an India of seventy-three years of independence. It is relevant when there are pogroms against the Muslims in Delhi, it is relevant when Godhra is mentioned, it is relevant when the memory of Mumbai riots of 1992 is evoked, it is relevant when mob lynching is spoken of, and it is relevant when people are killed basis what they eat, wear, look, and who they pray to.

Train to Pakistan was read by me as a part of my Partition Reads Project, of one book on the partition to be read every month. I believe that no matter how much it hurts to read such literature, we can never forget what happened, and in that process we heal – we remember and not forget that we need to be better humans – every single time.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara Title: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
Author: Deepa Anappara
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670093380
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 344
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a joy to read – the prose I mean. The story is dark, and will bring you down, but will also make you smile and maybe make you hopeful about the world around us. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara is a revelation – even revealing what you already know but ignore as you live your life on a daily basis.

The book is about children that are disappearing from a basti (slum) they live in. Jai, a nine-year-old kid decides to find these children, with the help of his friends, Pari and Faiz. He is influenced by the true crime show Police Patrol and is confident that his detection skills will make everything alright. He also recruits a dog for this task and names him Samosa. The story then takes off with more children disappearing, their detective work, and what it ultimately leads to.

This is the thread-bare plot of the book. Of course, there is a lot more that goes on. Anappara doesn’t name the city in which the Purple Metro Line runs but you get a sense of it. The hi-fi buildings next to the basti, the large mountain of garbage, the walls built to separate the rich and the poor, and the aspirations that continue to soar.

With this book, she builds a world that is known to us and yet remains unknown. Is it because we don’t want to see how lives are lived there? Is it because we don’t wish to be involved in lives other than ours? There was a lot of morality play at work while I was reading Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line and rightly so. Anappara wants you to question it all – the intent, the society we live in, the rules we follow or make, the ones that we don’t because we are scared, and lives that don’t get the same or equal opportunities such as ours, no matter how woke we are.

A lot is communicated through the book and a lot which readers have to infer. The book also has been published at a time when the Indian democracy is at the mercy of political parties who have the agenda of dividing and ruling basis religion. It comes at a time of Delhi riots, where there is clearly a pogrom at play – that of eliminating Muslims. A major part of the book also speaks of Hindu-Muslim divide in the wake of disappearing children.

There are three sections in the book, and each starts with “This Story Will Save Your Life” chapter which is about the grim reality of the underbelly (so to say) and yet sounds so assuring. Djinn Patrol is narrated by Jai – the language is English, sprinkled with Hindi throughout, which is the lifeline of the book. There is no need for translation of those words because they take the form of emotion. Anappara doesn’t spell all for the reader, she doesn’t want to explain it all – it is left to the reader to decipher – the situations, the language, and hence draw out the meaning.

Jai, Pari, and Faiz are endearing, earnest, and want to live a secure life and nothing more. It seemed to me that Anappara wanted nothing more for them but had to say what she had to. The children are lost, the djinns are legendary, the class divide is real, the rubbish pile dividing them quite literally is as real as it can get, and in all of this is the slum, which is home. The prose brings it all out – nosy neighbours, dangerous children, even more dangerous adults, a trip to the red-light district, the sense of dread, the claustrophobia as you are reading a scene taking place in small spaces, the smells – of shit, oil, ginger and cardamom tea, and the ever-hanging smog – the smog that doesn’t seem to lift like their misfortune.

Djinn Patrol is a coming-of-age story, a thriller, a literary story, a story of imagination and fantasy, a story that is both linear and nonlinear, and a story that is tough with a heart that’s as soft as cotton. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a book that will stay for long and hopefully will make you pray for the children of the world.