A little background before I comment on the book.
We lived in Delhi on two stretches. The first time was in 1968/69 when we were newly married and enjoyed Delhi as a more or less honeymoon location. The second time was between 1980 and 1983 when we became residents and made a number of friends who till today remain friends. This book revolves around tumultuous periods that Delhi as well the rest of the country saw and to which I was an adult witness. I have personal knowledge of people who suffered because of the Punjab problem, the immediate aftermath of the Indira Gandhi assassination, now more or less acknowledged as a pogrom against the Sikhs, and the Babri Masjid destruction. The links will give you some idea of the problems, but I was part of the generation that was impacted one way or the other by all three instances of insanity in India. I am among those convinced that the anti Sikh riots were orchestrated by the Indian National Congress and you don’t need go too far to justify it when you consider what Rajeev Gandhi said about it – “When a big tree falls, the ground shakes.”
My personal aversion to the Indian National Congress as a political party started with the State of Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi when I was personally exposed to the excesses of the times and this was only strengthened further during our second Delhi stint when I used to visit the Punjab and also had many Sikh friends and what the INC did to create the problem and how it tried to manage the aftermath.
Aatish Taseer, the author of this book comes with a cross cultural background. His mother, an Indian Sikh is a well known author/writer/columnist whose writings I follow religiously and his father a dashing Pakistani Muslim who was assassinated for defending Christians against the brutal anti blasphemy laws of Pakistan. Aatish is too young to have personally been able to experience the mood of the times that this book covers but he has obviously spent a lot of time interviewing people who had and what he brings out in this magnificently written book is something that I can fully relate to. That I am also a keen student of Sanskrit helps as quite a bit of Sanskrit features in the story.
The characters come alive and I personally know or know of people exactly like those portrayed in the book and so the characterisation is accurate and very identifiable with. The story grips one and at least for me, it was a not-put-downable reading experience.
As icing on the cake, while reading the book, I remembered some old Sikh friends in Delhi and contacted them using modern systems to locate and contact them, to our mutual delight with every intention of staying in touch in the future.
Two gems to arouse your curiosity. The first one slightly modified.
“She is a pragmatist nevertheless. What is right in her eyes – what is moral, even – is simply what is, not what should be.”
And the second, almost immediately following the above quote in the book, “…..stupidity, I’m sure you will agree, is not an absolute value, but a deficit.”
“Yes, the gap between what one is fit to be doing and what one, in fact, does.”
A book worth every rupee spent on it and one that I give[rating=6].