A forgotten history

Nothing stirs like pain, says Amandeep Sandhu, whose novel Roll Of Honour is a witness account of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984

Published - December 28, 2012 06:19 pm IST

Bangalore Karnataka:30/11/2012---------Author  Amandeep Sandhu  in Bangalore on Friday.
Photo: G P Sampath Kumar 
Photo: G_P_Sampath Kumar

Bangalore Karnataka:30/11/2012---------Author Amandeep Sandhu in Bangalore on Friday. Photo: G P Sampath Kumar Photo: G_P_Sampath Kumar

In language that is sharp, yet lucid, Amandeep Sandhu expresses the painful history of a community in his second novel, Roll Of Honour . Set in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star, the novel is written from the perspective of a teenaged boy, Appu, who is a student at a military school in Jassabad, Punjab. Like any teenager, Appu looks forward to being a class monitor and studying at the National Defence Academy. But a turn of events leads to the students being divided along sectarian lines, with those in positions of power resorting to rampant bullying. Appu is torn between choosing between his nation and community. The novel reveals the devastating effects of bullying both within boarding schools — largely considered prestigious —and the nation.

Like his debut novel Sepia Leaves,Roll Of Honour has autobiographical elements. Even though Amandeep doesn’t consider Roll Of Honour memoir writing, he says that he has mixed up events while retaining the essence of his experiences as a witness to the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. “This is testimonial writing. I have written the book as a witness,” says Amandeep, who was in the city recently for the Bangalore Literature Festival. “The book itself is the witness box. Who has asked what the walls of a court feel like, while dictators change?” questions Amandeep, a former journalist, “In this book, as with my debut novel Sepia Leaves, justice has not been served. I try to create justice through my writing. Telling the tale is coming to terms with the enormity of the event.”

Writing the novel, Amandeep says, was a healing experience. “Each one of us is stirred by different things. Nothing stirs like pain. Allow the pain and give yourself the space to heal. I don’t advocate being imprisoned by the past, but to notice how voices are brushed under the carpet.”

But for those who await justice, anger lingers. Amandeep agrees with the saying the tendency to forget history is to repeat it. “We do not really have a memorial to the Partition of India, to 84 massacres to Godhra and Babri Masjid. There is hardly any writing on the 1984 riots, either. There is only a British memorial to Indian soldiers, which we have claimed as our own.”

Amandeep’s language is lucid, yet sharp. “In writing, as with any creative venture, whatever one gets into will destroy them and then that will build them. In science, you don’t question the paradigm, in art you do. I am trying to practice a writing between form and formless. This book is that kind of writing.”

“The worst part of the writing life,” Amandeep observes, “is you are miserable because of the next project and people say you are a great writer. Skill alone does not make one a good writer and neither do you want to become formulaic. Otherwise, your writing becomes stilted.”

Just as Roll Of Honour presents a rounded picture of the 1984 riots, so too Sepia Leaves is the first fiction work that paints a truthful picture of schizophrenia. “This book is a cry against stereotypes. If you look at the literature on madness, from Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath or Edward Albee, it was celebrated as great experiments in form, not content, which permeates the myth that mad people are mystical and dangerous.”

Roll Of Honour has been published by Rupa Publications and is priced at Rs. 275.

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