Those very words. I could still feel the grip of his fingers where he had held my child’s arm, his hand, large, engulfing it, fingers touching at the tips. A line of grey already infected his beard, though a young man, yet even then retired, a national name. His beard tied back into a second, scruffy chin, a pink turban, his eyes on me, Watch the ball, not me, and again his voice, Watch the ball! But I always looked back into his eyes. Why was he here, why wasn’t he out there, where the newspapermen attacked each other for his photograph, where the radio sang his praises, where all India looked to the holy dirt his feet walked on? It’s only a game, he shouted. They said he had walked with Gandhiji to the sea. They said that he never, not even as a baby, wore anything but homespun. They said that on every corner he passed, an assassin waited – why? – but that divine forces protected him. I launched the cricket ball into the air, and it fell thudding in the hot dirt only a few feet away, a red, undistinguished ball, and he looked at me as though I, personally, had lost Pakistan.”
— from the story “The Order of Things” in Good Indian Girls. Pre-order your copy here.
From Outlook India by Shalini Mukerji:
“My father said that in India they gave names to the dark space between the stars. It was the darkness that was novel, scarce, that seemed brilliant against so much light. Sometimes I would find my father late at night in the living room, the lights all off, only the clock glowing on the vcr. He would say that it was such a relief, this darkness, this not being able to see. Only years later did I learn what it was he was hoping not to see,” remarks the floating narratorial voice in Sidhu’s Neanderthal Tongues. A powerful, suggestive story, it sculpts darkness from sparks of violence and finds the primal, atavistic expression of terror, one that transcends boundaries, language and time.Hero of the Nation, another disquieting story, explores the dynamics of caring for an ailing (grand)parent and how each member in the family scrabbles for air, a calming breath. Among these stories of dislocation and fragments of lives when time seems out of joint, The Discovery could have you thinking of Toba Tek Singh—Manto’s heartbreak about the madness of Partition, for it’s about a man who can’t make sense of the world as it splinters into ‘notcountries’ and ‘notwords’. The Border Song, among the lightest pieces in this collection, finds the transformative grace in grief and a closure of sorts that eludes characters in The Order of Things, a masterpiece of a story that could have you marvelling at Sidhu’s incisive and distinctive perspective for the Punjab experience of violence, exile and estrangement—both within India and abroad. Seeking in each story a ‘correct pronoun’ for our splintering selves and a ‘new grammar’ for fugitive histories, Sidhu seems to articulate Edvard Munch’s The Scream—that “infinite scream coursing through nature”, which the Norwegian expressionist sensed at sunset and painted as part of his ‘Frieze of Life’ series.
Beyond the lives tragically lost, it is the attack on this institution that I feel most deeply, for the gurdwara is not only a place of worship and service, but also one of real community and, for the children, of uninhibited play where the demands of parents are relaxed and the spectre of bullies a distant threat.
Read the full story here.
I didn’t write the headline on the published piece, and nor is that what I say. And the paragraph breaks on the online version are a mess. Not mine for sure.
As a Sikh, as an American, the latest, the murder of five Sikhs and a police officer at a gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, hits home for me, and home hard.
In Dad’s ancestral village, these days, in the Doab in Jullundar district in the Punjab. Here’s a picture.
I took a long walk today, out west for some miles to the next village, then cut back and south toward another, closer to home. I’d looked on Google maps satellite images for a route, and it looked like there was one, but a half mile out of Phalpota I was lost in fields. I met some labourers and they pointed me toward home, and I could see the other one too, some distance away. I spent the next hour walking back to the village across the fields and then found a track which led back to the road I’d originally taken. On the way out, a man riding a bullock cart stopped and started shouting at me, I couldn’t understand what he was saying and so eventually walked on, but a schoolgirl came by right after. She was maybe nine or ten. He needed help moving his bullock. It wanted to go the other way from where he was going and he needed someone to pull him round. The girl tried, and her, the bullock, and the cart, all toppled into a field. They got out after some amusing antics, and the cart passed me by and the man offered me a lift, but I declined, which I regretted. It would have been nice to sit up there and watch the fields go by, even for a short distance, but he was loud and he his only form of communication seemed to be shouting in my face, so maybe I was better off. The road was beautiful and much of the way, all I could hear were the birds and the sound of my own footsteps. I met the man again a way down the road. The bullock had pulled the cart into another ditch and the thing had half toppled over, dropped its load of one very large bag of what looked like cement. As I walked up, the man pulled his pants down facing me and pulled his penis out and started pissing, and as he did this called to me to come over. He talked for a while like that, his hands around his dick, then he pulled up his pants and together we lifted the cement bag back onto the cart.
And some more pictures.