‘Mother and daughter stood in the midst of the crowd in Chandni Chowk, a little volcanic island erupting in the midst of streaming, staring people.’
Daughter: Kajori Roy alias Kaju
Mother : Keya Roy
So the question is why the volcanic island erupted? No, its not because that Kaju got to know that she was adopted by Keya (it’s a known fact to her). The reason is altogether different…she has just sometimes back found out that her biological parents didn’t die of any epidemic at Chandan Hola as her mother told her; moreover there was no such incident-the EPIDEMIC. She knew it from Kabir, a ‘cabron’, her newly gained friend (who would soon be her soul mate) a Stephenian and son of a bureaucrat.
(Certainly Keya has tried to hide something from her daughter, what’s that?)
To know the reason behind the volcanic eruption, we have to rewind the story.
Kaju, a UCLA student, is an adopted daughter of Keya, a legal-aid activist. After graduating she decides to visit India in search of her identity and roots, a theme fairly common in novels. Kaju, however, has flashes of memories that egg her on in her search—a whisper she can never put words to when she runs, a woman-like apparition that stirs her at a railway line, and a slum she seems to know.
During her stay in India, while visiting Chandan Hola she saw a ‘little girl with red ribbon in her hair run across the field’ Kaju blinked and the vision vanished. (Little girl and red ribbon come back again and again in the story- the significance of this is the heart of the story, which we will know later).
In another event, Kaju was caught amidst a street brawl, where the men were yelling ‘pakdo harami ko! Koi bachne na paye!’Her heart hammered furiously and she felt herself break into a cold sweat. Kaju wondered why she was having such a strong reaction.
In the process Kaju has got to know about 1984- Sikh Riot as a repercussion of Indira Gandhi’s assassination and Trilokenagar was worst hit. When she asked her mother about this, the simmering tension soared up between the mother and daughter, despite they do share a strong bonding. As the story goes by, we find Kaju’s desperateness has mounted up to know the ‘TRUTH’ about her natural parents; she even broke Keya’s trunk to get her birth certificate!
With some dramatic turns of events Keya revealed the truth to Kaju:
Named Amu at birth, she was among the many victims of the 1984 riots. Adopted by Keya at the age of three, as was requested by Shanno Kaur, Amu aka Kaju’s mother, before she hung herself; she was taken to America to separate her from traumatic memories that had left her dumb for months, she is one of the lucky ones. Her nerve-racking memory could haunt her, so Keya had hidden these facts from her daughter- this veil was the reason behind the ‘volcanic eruption’. Now she has got to know her “root” and “identity” she has longed for.
After this revelation, ‘their tears melting away all the years of pain.’
At this point of time we understand that why the slums, a girl with red ribbon, a woman’s head with slight profile, railway tracks, Gurbani and skirmishing people were so familiar (although faded away) to her – all these she had witnessed 20years back during the Sikh carnage. The little girl was Amu, the woman was Shanno and she had a ‘strong reaction’ seeing the brawl because of her blotching memory of her father Gurbachan’s death in the hands of the political cadre. Gurbani, which she had listened at Bangla Sahib Gurdwara in Delhi is also common, because while ‘overpowered by the mob, he started (Gurbachan) quoting from the Granth Sahib (here the author puts up the characteristic of a Sikh who owes too much too his religion).
The novel is based on a true story of a single family. The book has lots of political shades. Shonali Bose wonderfully has shown us how the administration (portrayed through the character of Kabir’s father) and the-then government monitored the pogrom of 1984. How the politicians enfuel the events, encouraged the slaughter of humanity. She was almost flawless when describing those horrible days because of her personal experience, as she was the part of the relief camp. Her political consciousness has come to a full circle when she ended the novel with Godhra Carnage of 2002- the consequences of which is the biggest blot to the Indian democracy (the modus operandi of onslaught was same as 1984:eighteen years have passed, but nothing seemed to change).
This novel has not only political implications and strong argument against the communalism. It also dealt with the problem of NRI, their confusion (Kaju had a different sense of identity, “I feel even more foreign here” ‘she couldn’t fit here either: Kaju was discovering for herself the poignant reality of so many second-generation immigrants to the US. Being neither from here nor from there. Keya finds India as emotional wasteland) and also the issue of terrorism [1984(India): Assassination of Indira Gandhi=Every Sikh is a terrorist. 2001(USA): Attack on Twin Tower by Laden (?)= Every Muslim is a terrorist] Shonali has shown that how easily America has branded every innocent Muslim and Sikh a terrorist after 9/11 (despite residing in USA, her anti-Bush psyche comes out unmistakably).
Shonali Bose deserves full marks for dealing such a controversial issue and some other highly debatable issues with élan.
So at the end it could be said ‘Amu’ is a simple story, well written, which explores both the darker and finer side of human beings and terrifyingly attached with ground reality. “The novel is an intellectual treat. It makes one sit back and think. For once there is no "romanticised India" that we all look back to with "a smile and a tug at the heart.”
What is even more startling about ‘Amu’ is its Context, Time and Space. ‘Context’ is a holy word in any kind of history. It can make or mar any event, which has got a special mention in the discourses of History. Shonali Bose deals with such a ‘history’, which SECULAR India will love to forget. Undoubtedly it gave Amu a new height.
Time and Space are other positive points of this book- especially when the issues of Communalism, Global Terrorism and USA unipolarism are hitting the headlines again and again. So the book has become a must-read because of its contemporariness and at the same times its brush with ‘history.’
[Inputs are from various sources]
*1st-3rd November, 1984: The Sikh Genocide at Delhi took place. Please watch the movie if you could. A masterpiece by Shonali Bose.