Anaahat Naad

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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