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'Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?': Wounds that refuse to heal

There are many incidents in Indian history that we would just like to forget. Anita Rau Badami, in her book Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, confronts many of them. It starts with the Partition, spans the two wars with Pakistan, the Emergency, the Sikh riots and the sabotage of Air India flight 182. Needless to say, this book is an overdose of human tragedy that leaves the reader with a heavy heart - it's almost too much to bear.

To be fair to Badami, she tries to do it differently, using the voice of the faintly-heard Indian women of those times. These women emerge from their tragedies in many ways - emboldened, disillusioned and paranoid.

So, we have the strong woman Bibi-ji with an open heart that believes in the equality of every Indian, until events around her trample that thought. Leela is a practical woman who knows what good opportunities await the Indian abroad, though she feels lost in a new country. Nimmo, back in India, only wants to hold on tight to her family for fear of losing everything, yet again.

The narrative is threaded around the stories of these women and their gains and losses, reinforcing the transiency of life's little joys.

The insurgency in Punjab which was active during the 70s and 80s gets ample mention - both from the point of view of the God-fearing Sikhs and the labelled militants:

And it is not just soldiers who desecrate with guns and bombs. Over our heads, on the roofs and under our feet in the storage rooms, our own brothers and sons and fathers, armed too, stamp as hard as demons.
I expected a gift of money or gold. Both would be used to buy us food and more guns and grenades. This was how we found the means to fight for a free country. After a while I didn't know what that meant anymore, really. Free country.
Like with almost every other Indian fiction coming out nowadays, this one too is strongly rooted in diaspora. It seems that the Indian writers living abroad are more interested in writing about India's past.

But what's the point if we don't learn from these lessons? Punjab recently staggered hurt from riots between two Sikh groups. People proclaiming to 'protect our culture' unleash more violence onto the country which won its freedom more peacefully than most.
Book Review 1895404330476002896

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