All throughout the last-week preparations for my UPSC exams, I day dreamed about this book and its author. I wondered how it would be to meet Anjum and Aftab, Tilo and her lovers, and the little kid who would bind all their lives together. I re-read the articles and reviews about the book. I took screenshots of the book’s product detail page in amazon. I downloaded the authors pics and showed it to my mom, introducing her as “one of my favorite writers in the world”. “She is really beautiful, even at this age”, my mom declared. I decided I would make my mom to read the book, when it arrives, so that she could see this writer’s beauty from within as well.
After my first successful failed attempt in UPSC, where I was asked:
“Democracy’s superior virtue lies in the fact that it calls into activity
a)the intelligence and character of ordinary men
b)the methods for strengthening executive leadership
c)a superior individual with dynamism and vision
d)a band of dedicated party workers”
After 70 years of trial and error methods we used to cast our votes and the corrupted, misogynistic and misleading leaders we have repeatedly reelected, my conscience coughed when my head decided to mark the answer as option ‘a’. “We do have a charismatic leader”, my mind tried to gully me. One, after the exams, I discovered was hailed as “the most prominent and important prime ministers in the world today” even by Israeli newspapers and whom Arundhati Roy seems to hate to the core. I went ahead and darkened the bubble that read ‘a’. The author’s famous dialogue from the screenplay of ‘In which Annie gives it to those ones’ tormented my thoughts : “First you do it for the marks, then you do it for the money”. It is this dilemma and quirkiness I was greeted with on reading ‘the readers digest book of English grammar and comprehension for very young children by S.Tilottama’. She asks:
Why did the wreck shamble?
Why did the cattle cross the LoC?
How do you establish a man’s virginity?
What is the acceptable amount of blood for good literature?
Two weeks down the lane, spilling an earned leave for buying some lone time to rearrange my thoughts, on my best friend’s birthday, I laid my hands on the book for the first time. A loner’s gift to herself, ordered through the once photographed pages of Amazon. I marveled at the beauty of its cover page, a little piece of graveyard to wear around my neck, like a lover’s photo in a pendant or a dream catcher – a marble slab and the wilted red roses. I plunged into the depths of Anjum’s broken life first. The one who is the kichdi(mix) of Romeo and Juliet, the one with two voices and body tied to one soul. ‘I was born to be a mother’, she proclaims to the world that tags her as a Hijra(transgender), a ‘fiery beautiful’ hijra. How could she wage war to a Dhuniya(world) where even words where classified into two genders?
I read an opinion that Arundhati Roy should have stuck to the story of Anjum but I felt this couldn’t be one story, even if she tried to make it as one. This is not the story of Anjum or Tilo or Musa or Saddam Hussain. This is the story of people who refuses to be part of a system that has no regard for them. These are the unconsoled, the outcasts coming together, not to form their own political party with hidden agendas but to build a home in a graveyard where the living and the dead, women-men-hijras-kids-and-animals form their own kingdom because after all ‘only the dead are living and free. The living are dead people pretending.’
Through Tilo and her lovers, we catch a glimpse of Asli(real) Kashmir and the Asli boots of Indian government. It also gives us a glimpse of the life Arundhati Roy must have lived for 20 years amidst insults and charges of sedition. But nothing pulls us, our hearts like the red rose flower of blood in the ears of Miss Jeneeb the first, or the kittens in Gulrez’s hands who like ‘Sultan’ dies the death of a bewakoof(idiot). ‘If that fool didn’t know how to live here with the military, why did he have to come into this world in the first place’?
Critics also tells us that this story is a mosaic of too many lives and the details of too many characters drowns down the emotional attachment of readers to Tilo or Anjuman. Personally, I couldn’t disagree more because I yearned to know more about the characters. Why is the Imam a lonely man? What happens to Garson Hobart, will he be tormented just like Amrik Singh or will music rescue him from the lure of death? Will Dr Azad Bharathiya ever finish his PHD, how long will he survive on de-worming pills? Will Miss Udaya Jenebb grow up to love Anjum and Tilo equally, or will she betray Anjum just like Zainab?
All I want to add to the possible future readers is.. Read this book not because the author is world famous. Read this book not with the weights of Ammu or Velutha or the estranged twins or their memories that ‘God of small things’ gifted us. Read this book to meet the ghosts Arundhati Roy sets free to her living room when the reporters, activists and bureaucrats leave her alone for a good night’s sleep. Read the book to ponder why the graveyard was named ‘Jannat house’ when India, Pakistan and Kashmiri militants cut each others throats to claim a land that was once called ‘Jannat’ by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan. Read this book to never forget what we have deliberately and conveniently forgotten already like the Kashmiri youth blinded by pellets or school girls in white uniform hurling stones at the army or the civilian tied to the army jeep to safeguard our soldiers from bullets.
When I was reading the ending pages, my sister called on my mobile phone. Out of usual habit and tamed courtesy to superiors, I greeted her ‘good morning’. She laughed at the stupidity and awkwardness of the statement passed between two sisters who have bathed each other in childhood, have seen and nursed each other’s broken hearts. She laughs that familiar laugh and I can’t help but remember what Khadija says to Tilo – “In Kashmir when we wake up and say ‘Good Morning’ what we really mean is ‘Good Mourning’ “.
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