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Daughters of the sun: ‘The Radiance of a Thousand Suns’ by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

Scarred: A visitor looks at the pictures of those who had died in Operation Blue Star at a museum inside the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.   | Photo Credit: PRABHJOT GILL AMRISTAR

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s epic novel scores in bringing together narratives centred on Punjab that until now have almost always been viewed in isolation. This story about Bibi-ji, Nooran, Jyot and Niki travels across four countries and two continents as Sodhi weaves a rich tapestry of location, character and memory spanning four generations of women of the Nalwa family.

The novel opens with a scene from the days of militancy in Punjab. Ordinary people have come to ask Niki’s father, a human rights lawyer, to accompany them in filing habeas corpus petitions for their missing sons. This scene from the past plays in Niki’s memory as she works as a volunteer at a New York non-profit, which handles undocumented migrants from South Asia.

Thus a parallel is drawn between the two states — India and the U.S. — as they turn predator towards their people. This theme runs through the novel as Sodhi takes us through its chief events: the Partition, Emergency, Operation Blue Star, the anti-Sikh pogrom, the era of militancy in Punjab, and finally 9/11 on the world stage.

Daughters of the sun: ‘The Radiance of a Thousand Suns’ by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The novel has three sections, with different kinds of numbering and style demarcating them. The chapters with the Hindu-Arabic numerals take the main story ahead but in a non-linear way, thus creating suspense; the chapters with the Roman numerals weave in the framework of the Mahabharata to suggest that the stories of our land have been playing in circles over many millennia. The chapters with Roman numerals and blank pages speak of the silences that mark Jyot’s experiences of Partition, which left her bereft of her family; of 1984, when her husband and children were murdered; and of post 9/11 New York, where she finds herself a vulnerable migrant.

The novel’s title comes from the creator of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad Gita, but here it also stands for a grand sun that Niki’s daughter traces on an embroidery by Niki’s nanny which Niki carries with her wherever she travels.Sodhi’s dexterity lies in giving her characters interiority, illuminating the darkness inside victims’ minds. She makes the process seem natural as Niki and her father try to write a book stitching together the inter-generational trauma of Punjab. This meta-ness of the novel serves only to highlight the historical reality as experienced by the women of Punjab.

The writer is working on a non-fiction book on Punjab.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns; Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, HarperCollins, ₹499

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 2:28:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/daughters-of-the-sun-the-radiance-of-a-thousand-suns-by-manreet-sodhi-someshwar/article29298919.ece

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