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Something rich and strange: Review of ‘A Thousand Cranes for India: Reclaiming Plurality amid Hatred’

The crane enjoys a mythical status in world literature, especially in Eastern culture, where the bird is seen as a symbol of longevity and a harbinger of good fortune. The origami paper cranes of Japan reiterate the importance of peace in a violent world. In Japan, paper cranes are gifted to convalescents or hung up in war memorials in a nod to the enduring human spirit. And making a thousand cranes is a common collective effort towards a cause.

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A Thousand Cranes for India: Reclaiming Plurality amid Hatred, an anthology of verse, creative writing and reportage, uses the crane as a metaphor to show how solidarity fares at a time when divisiveness is on the rise. It starts with Pallavi Aiyar’s foreword about the 2018 rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa Bano in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir. She is reminded of it in Japan as she spends a day at Peace Park, a memorial to the victims of the 1945 Hiroshima bombings.

From the heart

When she tries making a paper crane later, it is like “folding the depravities of the world and transforming them into a weightless thing of beauty,” she says. For her, the anthology is a weapon to avenge Asifa Bano’s killing. “I was determined... not to lose the war begat by Asifa’s murderers and others like them who killed and raped in the name of piety or purity. I would fight for my India using only the weapons I had: words and cranes.”

Each of the 23 pieces in this book is thought-provoking. There are ruminations upon the actual crane

Something rich and strange: Review of ‘A Thousand Cranes for India: Reclaiming Plurality amid Hatred’

(Siberian and Sarus); its mechanical counterpart that dominates construction sites; its metaphorical version, where the crane becomes a statement on realpolitik that colours and polarises religious identity. The anthology speaks to us especially because we are big on symbolism in India — whether it is in the colours of the national flag or the gestures that form the grammar of ancient performing arts. The Sarus crane is considered sacred in Indian myths and folklores, which often depict it as a symbol of everlasting love.

Freedom and joy

In his essay, ‘Travelling in the Zone,’ Ranjit Hoskote writes, “I picture a flight of paper cranes, thousands of them, gliding across lines of control and no-fly zones, reminding us of a freedom and a joy that were never meant to be divided by boundaries enforced with periodic offerings of blood tribute.” Social activist and author Gurmehar Kaur’s short story, Paper Cranes, smites a tender relationship between its teenaged Hindu and Muslim protagonists with the razor blade of sanctioned hatred, but crucially, leaves a door open for reconciliation.

In ‘(Un) Folding Secrets’, Jonathan Gil Harris delves deep into the recesses of his mother’s mind to show she survived the Holocaust and other traumatic events by burying them in a fog of invented memories. “There are many ways of folding a piece of paper... Folding can be creative; it can also be a mode of avoidance. It can be both simultaneously,” he writes.

Lighter vein

Journalist Samrat Choudhury, whose essay, ‘Aziz from Pakistan’, re-examines opposing sides of the Indo-Pak debate in the neutral setting of Japan, makes a strong case for empathy when he writes, “The astonishing thing about war in today’s world is that it happens at all. No normal person would wish it on any of the world’s peoples.”

The usually sombre tone of the anthology is leavened with flashes of humour, as in Shovon Chowdhury’s cheeky short story, The Magic Pants, which tries to inject sex appeal into the trademark khaki-shorts uniform of the RSS. The laughs are a bit more strained in Veena Venugopal’s short story, The Maid, which follows the digital skulduggery of a domestic ‘influencer-type’ diva who is using (posed) pictures of her household help to get online appreciation.

Besides those mentioned above, there are contributions from Tishani Doshi, Anjum Hasan, Janice Pariat, Gopika Jadeja, Annie Zaidi, Tabish Khair, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, Manu Dash, Sudeep Chakravarti, Mohammad Muneem, Prajwal Parajuly, Sumana Roy, Radhika Jha, Namita Devidayal, Srijato and Natasha Badhwar.

As this anthology shows, there are clearly many ways to fold a piece of paper.

A Thousand Cranes for India: Reclaiming Plurality amid Hatred; Edited by Pallavi Aiyar, Seagull Books, ₹499

nahla.nainar@thehindu.co.in

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