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Book Review: Roll of Honour

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Amandeep Sandhu’s novel “Roll of Honour” gives an account of the state of Punjab during the turbulent period of early 1980s. It narrates the life and times in Punjab when the state was gripped with the Khalistan movement (i.e. the secessionist movement for creation of separate Sikh country). The novel addresses a tumultuous chapter in the history of Punjab. The author blends his personal experiences with the political situation in Punjab during 1980s and rolls out “Roll of Honour”.

Roll Of Honour

The novel, a semi-autobiographical one, is set against the backdrop of militancy in Punjab. The protagonist of the novel is a Sikh boy, Appu who is studying in 12th standard in a military school in fictional town of Jassabad, Punjab. He wants to get his name listed in the school’s hall of fame, the ‘Roll of Honour’. Appu aspires of getting into National Defence Academy so that he can serve the nation by joining Indian Army.

In the meantime, the situation in the state of Punjab turns vicious. Indian Army at the behest of the Indian Government carries out ‘Operation Blue Star’ for eliminating the Khalistani militants who are holed up in Golden Temple. In the operation, Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, the chief advocate of Khalistan, is killed along with his associates. These happenings affect the environment in the military school as well. The Khalistan movement splits the students of the military school along the sectarian lines i.e. Hindus and Sikhs. The supporters of Khalistan movement in the school deify Bhindrawale and want to tread the same path while the others want to be part of nation India. Appu, who wanted to join the Indian Army, doesn’t seem to be interested anymore after seeing the wrong doings by the forces in Punjab.

The people especially the Sikhs viewed Indian Army with distrust after having entered the sanctum-sanctorum of the Golden Temple. The innocent Sikhs who didn’t favour the idea of Khalistan were also seen as militants by the security personnel. The turban defined who was militant and who was not.

Appu is confronted with the questions of authority, identity, dignity, sexuality, and friendship. In the military hostel, the seniors indulge in sodomy and bullying so as to dominate the juniors. In between, Appu tells about his current life. The past-present transition in the novel is smooth.

The observations made by the author are striking. “Of all that transpires in the heart, hope is the meanest because it tints one’s understanding of reality.” Another one, “I realized with time that we are all potential chameleons changing our colours according to where we belong, who pays us, what keeps us safe.” This observation is superb, “Words are not only combinations of letters of the alphabet and symbols; they are vehicles of intent that come from deep convictions, from intuition. Sense does not come from reading letters but by listening to one’s intuition.”

Amandeep Sandhu’s novel “Roll of Honour” questions the authoritative power. It is about different identities an individual takes in different phases of life on the basis of colour, religion, community, language, and nation. The author is blunt in describing the events and the experiences (and even the abuses). The characters of the novel are bit confusing some times. The cover page is fine, so is the paper quality and font size. One should read this novel to get an insight about what the youth went through during troubled times in Punjab. I hope the author has found peace with himself and his past after writing the novel.

(Originally published in Niti Central)

Written by Varad Sharma

April 27, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots

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Rahul Pandita’s book Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits narrates the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir valley. It is the account of an ethnic community that was forced to leave home and hearth behind and take refuge in an unknown land. The book describes the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from Kashmir at the behest of Islamic extremists/terrorists.

Our Moon Has Blood Clots

Our Moon Has Blood Clots is a memoir of Rahul Pandita who was fourteen years old when he had to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family. The book brings forth the untold story of Kashmiri Pandits who became refugees in their own country. The book begins with author’s initial days in Srinagar and life in Kashmir. Then it describes the changes in aura of the valley ─ India-West Indies international cricket match in 1983 where the crowd cheered for Pakistan and Indian players faced severe harassment; the chants of ‘Allah Hu Akbar’ on streets when Pakistan defeated India at Sharjah in the final of Austral-Asia Cup in 1986; the threats to Kashmiri Pandits via notices, pamphlets, mosque loudspeakers, street processions.
The changed scenario subsequently led to selective killing of Kashmiri Pandits, rapes of innocent Pandit women and resulted in the displacement of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. Rahul Pandita’s book also touches upon the 1947 tribal raid in Kashmir in the voice of his maternal uncle. The author’s maternal grandfather along with his family had to leave Baramulla due to the tribal raid.

The book debunks the lies regarding the exodus of Pandits. The most widespread untruth is that the exodus of Pandits was a ploy by Government of India through Jagmohan, then the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, to defame the so-called freedom struggle (which is nothing but a struggle for an Islamic state). The author gives the horrendous account of murders of some Kashmiri Pandits by the militants in 1990s. The book also nails the lie that those Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in the valley (and didn’t leave) were not harmed. In this regard, he met Vinod Dhar who is the lone survivor of 1998 Wandhama massacre in which 23 Kashmiri Pandits were brutally killed.

Rahul Pandita’s memoir makes the reader feel the pain and suffering which Kashmiri Pandits have been through. It evokes anger at the failure of the Indian state in protecting its own people. Pandita’s book tells of the betrayal by the majority community of Kashmir (i.e. Kashmiri Muslims) who were so enamoured with ‘azadi’ that they chose to support gun culture over the people (i.e. Kashmiri Pandits).

Though Rahul Pandita visited Kashmir regularly as a journalist, it was only in September 2007 that he managed a visit to his ‘home’ along with his two journalist friends and found that it was not the same anymore. It was a house built with the provident fund savings of his father and the bridal jewellery of his mother. The author feels helpless when he finds someone else living in his house and he has to seek permission to enter it.

The book tries to break the silence in the socio-political discourse over the ethnic cleansing and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. In the discourse regarding Kashmir conflict, the high-handedness of Indian state and the alleged human rights abuses by Indian security forces are debated but not what happened to Kashmiri Pandits. As the author rightly says, it has become unfashionable to speak about the issue of Kashmiri Pandit refugees. Rahul Pandita’s book sets right the narrative in this context.

I had a lump in my throat while reading the book. There are heartbreaking passages in the book where I could not control my tears. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is not the story of Rahul Pandita alone but the story of every single Kashmiri Pandit who encountered terror in Kashmir. It is the story of the innocent people who were raped, killed and assaulted by terrorists leading to their tragic exodus. It is noteworthy that despite all odds, the Kashmiri Pandit community never espoused violent methods for their struggle for reclamation of their ancestral homeland.

Rahul Pandita describes the pain and agony of Kashmiri Pandits in a very lucid manner without mincing words. Pandita’s book is an extremely poignant account of Hindus of Kashmir who are still living in exile in their own country. The book is a must read for those who don’t know what happened to minority community of Kashmir valley and also for those who continue to be in denial about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.

(Originally published in Niti Central and The Pioneer)

Written by Varad Sharma

February 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm