Wednesday, December 01, 2010

History Books

We are all like Sita in the epic Ramayana. Isn't it strange that when we are asked not to do something, we are more eager to defy. Our curiosity increases urging us to cross the forbidden line. My urge to buy Such A Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry was kindled by media reports that Aditya Thackeray ensured that the book is removed from University of Mumbai's syllabus.

I have been wanting to read A Fine Balance for quite sometime, but the developments led me to purchase Such A Long Journey, first.

And must say Rohinton's book makes such a lovely read. Set in the late 1960s and early 70s, the book is about Gustad Nobel, a middle class Parsi living in Mumbai. It is about his struggle, aspirations for a better life for his family and love for his friends. While there is lot of humor, the book is also replete with other emotions. Especially, ones related to death.

As I said, I bought the book understand to why Thackeray Super Jr. was against the book. Within few chapters, I understood why. The book is set in the times when Shiv Sena was emerging as a force in Maharashtra. Parsis who are also a minority community had to face difficult times as much as South Indians. There are lots of derogatory references concerning Shiv Sena and Marathi Manoos who are cadres, in the book. It is only natural that young Thackeray felt agitated. But then he has no rights to get it removed from the syllabus just because Shiv Sena is shown in bad light. Googling threw this interview of his. And I do agree with him that there is lot of foul language. Further, it also has a lot sexually explicit material. But I doubt if college going students would really be affected by exposure to those material. They are far more exposed by the time they reach college.

I was quite surprised that Congress didn't want to ban the book. More than Shiv Sena, the book is very negative on Congress' rule, Indira Gandhi, Ministers and Sanjay Gandhi. In fact, one of the important sub plots is about Indira cheating the nation by drawing tax payer's money to fund Sanjay's car project and in the process deceiving and ultimately leading to the death of Bili Boy, Gustad's best friend.

I love books of this genre, though I am not sure to which it belongs to. There's history, thrill elements and drama. The Kite Runner was the other book I loved reading. Though the story is more about the current than about the past. A book that really intertwines historical moments/personalities with the life of a common man was Mohammed Hanif's A Case Of Exploding Mangoes. The book is loosely based around the events of that lead to the death of the then-President of Pakistan Zia Ul Haq. A brilliant book.

But it is Midnight Children by Salman Rushdie that is more similar to Such A Long Journey. Both these books are set around the same period and discuss the political scenario. The war of 1971 has significant effect on the characters' lives. Both the books discuss Congress' rule critically. Another incident that finds mention in both the books are the KM Nanavati case. But Salman Rushdie's book is a very complex read, or at least that is how I felt. 

I used to love history at school. And when a story is mixed with the history, they become representation of those times. Of course, History is written by those in power, novels can be true representation of life for the masses in that period. Books certainly are the real time machine. Have you read my other blog about history of Christianity in Chennai? Here you go.

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