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

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Love’s Labour’s Lost, in India Today: Reflections on a Graduation, Politicians and Parents

Some years back, on holiday in Thailand, I intended to recuperate after finishing writing one book by spending days in a hammock on a beach, eating - lots, drinking - more, and reading - rather re-reading - one book: The Discovery of India. The vacation turned out to be exactly what I needed and the only part of my plan that didn’t work out was that I didn’t end up re-reading as much as I intended to — blame the myriad charms of a comatose holiday. As our hammock days ended, in jest, I turned to my family and said that I could almost hear Pandit Nehru’s gentle rebuke: Beta, aap hamari kitaab nahin kholey?

Fast forward to yesterday when we were driving back from wind-blown Providence after witnessing a graduation — of my friend’s daughter who, in the manner of children we’ve seen grow up, is now a friend too. Sometime during the journey, hubby and I discussed the one defining statement that Brown University’s President made in her commencement address: Do what you love. We both agreed that while that was entirely valid, what was missing in that exhortation was that one essential element of any true love: labour.

How can you know what you love if you haven’t put in the labour that love demands? 

Doubtful? Ask any parent or caregiver who raises a child. We love our children, but of course, yet is there a day when raising them — and Lord! we shall not even get into adolescence here when several WWs are resolved in one day, and largely because one party (the parent must always remember to be the adult in the relationship) — that parents are not tested? Yesterday, my friend teared up so often that we joked it was the stinging icy wind of New England. But when you have raised a mewling helpless infant to the day they toss their mortar boards gleefully into the air, you have scars which your children will never know. Until they become parents themselves. That is the circle of life. Labour - Love - Labour - Love… 

Now we are living in an age where it has become easy and fashionable to denounce our past leaders, be it Obama in the US or Nehru in India. The current governments seem duty bound to diss those visionary leaders. They love being in the public eye — bespoke suits, grandiose rhetoric, social media glitz — not so much the labour of governance, it seems. 

There is the fantasy of love and the reality of worthwhile achievement — Shakespeare well understood this when he wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost. As do our current politicians. Having little worthwhile achievement to show, they are rewriting Nehru’s Legacy via their frothing social media troll wagon. Anyone with a smidgen of historical knowledge knows the “contribution” the RSS and its right-wing cohorts made to the freedom of India — the most famous being the letters of apology Savarkar wrote begging the British for his own freedom, the country be damned. 

As for Nehru, he was jailed so frequently by the British that he picked up gardening, often turning part of the prison yard into a flower garden with the help of fellow prisoners. Spinning was another activity he took up in jail. Indeed, the pale pink khaki silk saree that Indira Gandhi wore on her wedding was spun by him in jail. And while Savarkar was writing his mercy petitions, Nehru wrote The Discovery of India in jail in 1944 over five months, without the aid of the internet or any research assistants — it covered 1000 handwritten pages. 

Labour - Love. Got it? 

You raise a child, you got scars to show. You free a nation and work to ensure its freedom is sustained, you got scars to show. Of his 74 years of life, Pandit Nehru spent almost a decade shuttling between jails. As Prime Minister, he worked to the beat of Frost’s homily to love & labour: I have miles to go before I sleep…

Pandit Nehru died 54 years ago. But his words live on. You can read mercy petitions or you can read the The Discovery of India. Question is: are you willing to put in the labour for what you love?

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Swatantra Gantantra

When I was a child, 15 August and 26 January were like Siamese twins: lookalikes who were even otherwise indistinct; born like twins are, one following the other. We celebrated them similarly too, with school assembly and singing of patriotic songs, which blared on loudspeakers as we ventured to school and back. On those days, Bhagat Singh and Manoj Kumar popped up in the manner of seasonal heroes, and I hummed “mera rang de basanti chola” because even AIR’s Urdu Service favored the song. Only in secondary school did I begin to glean that much like the judwa Ram-Sham, the diwases Gantantra and Swatantrata, were actually unlike each other and stood for different things.  

In Civics I learnt that 26 January marks Republic Day when the constitution of India came into effect in 1950. Three years after Independence Day which came first on 15 August 1947. Was India therefore not a Republic (Gantantra) in those 2.5 years between the two historic days? No, not officially. Those years were when India, led by the fierce scholar Dr Ambedkar, was crafting a constitution which would effectively serve a multilingual, multi religious, multi ethnic, ancient civilization such as India that had newly transitioned to a modern independent nation. In keeping with the complexity of the task at hand, the Constitution of India is the world’s longest. (No, now’s not the time to faint.) To ensure that the average citizen of India knew exactly what this long document was all about, its drafters handed us a key, kind of like the one you use when preparing for exams? It’s called the Preamble, a simple 1-pager that you can, and are indeed expected to, know by heart. I do.

Along with poems, ghazals, certain Hindi songs, the Preamble is one of those things I recite to myself as I walk — if you’re surprised, go hasten to read it for the power and poetry of its words. Recently, I was trudging through Central Park after days of incessant snow. As I walked, I kept an eye out for shiny patches of ice which will have you splayed out on the ground faster than a banana peel. The sun shone bright, its incandescence lighting up the field of snow like halogen. A fellow walker and I fell into conversation, and as happens with New Yorkers nowadays, we were soon talking about Trump and his calamitous presidency. We bemoaned his misogyny, buffoonery, chicanery, greed, his disregard for science and global warming, his bigotry and small mindedness and those small hands… Yup, we covered most everything that’s bothering us. As we came to a fork where our paths diverged, we paused, my companion forlorn as he shrugged: But what do we do? 

A 71-year-old Jewish gentleman who loved the Beatles and Sai Baba in his youth (I had learnt), his big concern was the world he was leaving for his grandchildren and all the other children. What can we do, he reiterated.

I stuck my chin out and said, Exactly what we did now. We talk. 

We talk to state our opinion. We talk to make sure we are heard. We talk to enable those who want to talk to know that yes, while we do not burn buses or lynch folks or rabble rouse, we are a community of people who believe fiercely in the premise that all human beings are created equal. A precept that is the foundation on which rests the world’s oldest (US) democracy and the world’s largest (India). A premise that is declared in the Preamble to the Constitution of India, and is meant to be upheld by all citizens of India. That is exactly what Bhagat Singh, our favorite martyr — oh so young, so heroic! — exemplified: Zindgi to apne damm par hi jeeyee jaati hai, dusron ke kandhe par toh shirf janaaze uthaye jaate hai. We live life on our terms, shoulders of others are handy for funeral processions. 

In these perilous times when the Constitution is being mistaken for Cowstitution, by-hearting the Preamble is the first independent step you can take. Then, start talking. 

Happy Republic Day, folks — India’s looking at you! (Try not to fail her.)