Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Monday, 15 August 2016

Jago Mohan Pyare

Am I Indian? 

In 1947, not knowing the answer cost one million people their lives. Because their leaders could not agree on ‘What is India?’. Because over 350 years of rule, the British had propagated the lie that India was so diverse there was no inherent unity to it. Indeed the British were needed to hold this sprawl together. When they departed, the country tore apart, expectedly. 

That lie was beneficial to the British Raj, but why did Indians get amnesia?

That India had a geographic unity was known to Indians since Vyasa compiled the Mahabharata two millennia back, and defined Bharata: the land that is south of the mountains and north of the sea. As a principal character, he cast Gandhari, mother of the Kauravas. Gandhari: the lady from Gandhara, modern-day Kandahar in Afghanistan. The oldest copy of the Mahabharata was discovered in Kashmir. It is alive in the folk performances of south India: Kerala’s Theeyam, Karnataka’s Yakshagana, Tamil Nadu’s Terukkuttu. And lives in the east amongst the tribals of Bihar and Orissa.
Vyasa's intention with the Mahabharata was to inscribe Dharma in the heart of men, so they did not forget. The fact that it is enacted to this day would seem to fulfill Vyasa’s objective. But has it become a spectacle? Where the takeaway from the battle for dharma is battle, not Dharma? Otherwise, how could the violence of Partition have occurred? And of 1984, 1992, 2002 …

As independence approached, increasingly disillusioned by violence, Gandhi maintained that the Mahabharata, the story of a bloody war, was nevertheless written to establish the futility of war. And yet, the midnight birth of twins yielded twin migrations, an umbilical cord that cleaved into two, flailing east and west. In the Purana Qila of Delhi, the same Old Fort where the Pandavas had sought refuge, Gandhi found Muslim refugees huddling from the tyranny of their Hindu brothers. And the Mahabharata came full circle.

As we approach the 70th anniversary of India’s freedom, the question of ‘who is Indian’ is being bandied about again - a re-attempt to pour a plural India into the straitjacket of one religion. Tomorrow, 15 August, 2016, we mark 69 years of India’s independence and partition. Today, a 23-year-old girl from Tripura, driven purely by her grit and guts, vaulted on the Olympic stage for India in a maneuver that only five people in the world dare perform. Is she Indian? Hell, yeah! all of India will declare today. Even if most of us could not locate Tripura on the map before the Olympics began.

In a fine illustration of a karma yogi, Dipa Karmakar began training for this day 17 years ago when she turned six. Karma and Dharma, the twins that so bedeviled Arjuna on the battlefield, continue to confound many Indians to this day. And yet, the doing of one’s duty - how beautifully has Dipa Karmakar shown it to all of India today. When the tired question pops up next - Is he/she/they/Indian? - tell the questioner it’s been seven decades since the British left, time to wake up, no?! 

Jago Mohan pyare …

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit & Throwback Thursday!

Once upon a time there was a swampy island where 50% of the people had barely enough to survive: just the clothes on their back, gruel for the one meal a day, some shelter. In a nutshell, life was Dickensian. Desperate merchants begged the queen for a royal charter to go trade with that jewel of the east, India. In 1609, William Hawkins arrived in the court of emperor Jahangir with the gift of a bolt of broadcloth. Broadcloth, yes. In a Mughal court awash with silks and jewels. A lesser man might have quailed but the English were canny grocers who recognized a great bargain: with nothing to lose, save broadcloth, there was everything to be gained.

Over the next 350 odd years, with their presence never exceeding 100,000, the English were able to control the Indian subcontinent with one sole aim: to loot it. Of course, they had local help in this enterprise from like-minded Indian grocer type Jagat Seths and traitors such as Mir Jafar. That loot enabled little England to become Great Britain.

Cut to present. Britain is part of the EU, which means other white folks from all over Europe can find their way to the island and undercut the resident white English. Immigrants, you see, are always hungry - remember William Hawkins and his merchants? Yesterday, June 23, 2016, the English cried their way out of union with EU. Yes sir, we are drawing up the bridge and talking to you no more. We are reclaiming our old days of glory. Throwback Thursday, for sure!

Except, as your great poet - the prefix is justified in this case - Tennyson said: the old order changeth yielding place to new. You may want to return to the swampy isle of 1600 Tudors but there ain't no jewel waiting to be looted. You see, India is still struggling from being looted over 350 years. And we are still compiling the rather extensive list of reparations. Meanwhile, you'll realise soon, what with the pound plunging, the Kohinoor will only take you so far. Don't despair - may I suggest the cuppa that cheers? So English, right? But hurry up, my dears. The Chinese are expected any moment with their reparations list. There, there …