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, 3 October 2016

The Pakistanis Are Coming!

'Get out, the Pakistanis are coming!’ 

A fine headline to be greeted with this morning, on October 2, the day of Gandhi Jayanti. Made me check my calendar to confirm it wasn’t 30th January. 

To all those bandying their jingoism the past few days, jung mubarak, you’re welcome to your war. How comforting it must be to thump your chests as you listen to Ornob and approve ‘surgical strikes’. Us folks who live on the border - 553 Kms of Ferozepur, Fazilka, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur, Pathankot - teetering forever on Radcliffe’s line, are fleeing; leaving behind, yet again, our homes, our land, our crops, our selves.

But, I digress. Happee budday, Bapu! (that’s how we say it in Punjab). If you don’t feel like partying with the chest thumpers, join us as we hastily evacuate and scramble away from the border, sweat lining our sweaters in the autumnal chill, a thousand questions on our minds. Who will harvest the rice? Feed the buffalos? Where will we find shelter? How far before we can rest? Will Pakistan also do surgical strikes? Or will its tanks roll across the border like in ’71? Will we have a home to return to? We have no plan - we were ordered to ‘Evacuate at once!’ - but once we find shelter, in a gurdwaras perhaps, we can swap stories. 

You can tell us about the Purana Qila of Delhi, the same Old Fort where in 1947 you found Muslim refugees huddling from the tyranny of their Hindu brothers, much as the Pandavas had sought refuge from the Kauravas as the Mahabharata says. And I can tell you about fleeing from home astride my father’s shoulders, ducking into bushes as sirens sounded, crying when my embroidered jutti slipped off my foot and my father paused in flight as he searched for that one shoe even as the PAF fighter planes threatened to incinerate us any moment … 

When the war passed and we returned home to ‘normalcy’, we exchanged stories with friends and neighbors as we recalled our flights. We have so many stories, Bapu, the night will pass before you can blink an eye. For a people used to evacuating upon a crisp command, stories are all we can carry. And in an amnesiac nation (not a single memorial to Partition), stories are all we have.

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 …