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

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.)

Friday, 8 December 2017

Ladyz, gentlemen, mitron, lend me your ears... (With apologies to the Bard)

Ladyz, gentlemen, mitron, lend me your ears (arrey, kaan nahin kaatiye, bus suniye — I know we’ve got mighty handy with cutting of late)
I come to bury the Idea of India (which Indira put on ventilation many years back, and now Shri PMji is putting to permanent sleep), not to praise it.
The grandiose idea (secular amidst multiple ancient religions) birthed by the likes of Gandhi-Nehru, 
was a stillbirth when Gandhi was assassinated within the first year of independent India (achhe din version 1.1)  
But Nehru slapped it into some semblance of life, and let it be. Siri PMji 
has told you the Idea of India was bogus:
A Hindu land, Hindu from the golden age of the Vedas, what you mean sickular?
And grievously has India answered it.
Here, under leave of Shri PMji and the rest —
For he is Hindu, Bharat varsha is Hindu;
As is his party of all Hindu men and some (Hindu) women —
Come I to speak in ‘Idea of India’s’ funeral.
I learnt of the Idea of India in my Civics class when I by-hearted the Preamble to our Constitution;
But Shri PMji and his Godse-loving party insists it is an invalid idea;
And Shri PMji has a vision for achhedin and an army of bhakts (so stay in line, I must.)
The idea of India brought many glories to our nation:
An ancient civilization! the world’s largest democracy!
Home to all world religions! Home of non violence!
Did this seem invalid?
Yet Shri PMji says India is for Indians (and Babur-ki-aulad types shush!),
Cent percent Hindu, if Brahmin, better, 
If male, even more so.
I speak not to disprove what Shri PMji and his Bhajapa speak (and promise and trump about Make in India and the din of achhedin)
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love the Idea of India once, not without cause:
(You rioted at regular intervals — 1984, 1992, 2002 — but regained sanity, as if realizing that the good of India lay in a collective good)
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for the Idea of India?
Which Tagore described as ‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,’
Which the Preamble (yes, that dusty old tarp that refuses to die, for me at least, a minority twice over: woman and Sikh) promised?
O judgement! thou art fled to an army of trolls,
And men who will protest the plight of fictional women,
And behead, burn and film a poor laborer because he’s Babur-ki-aulad, 
(Never mind that there are 500 years between the two, and hey, in the meantime we had the English too!) Bear with me;
My heart is there in the coffin with the Idea of India,
With Tegh Bahadur who gave his life for the Kashmiri Brahmins,
With the widows and children of ’84 who are still awaiting justice at the hands of their Hindu brethren,
With the women of India who must endure because they are not fictional or mythological but all too real,
With the Muslim woman who raised me, the Catholic nuns who taught me, my Hindu and Sikh family,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
And here, Mr Shakespeare, I must take your leave and recall one of my favorite poets, 
Bahadur Shah Zafar, beleaguered in Burma, who recalling his motherland India, waxed:
Bahut lambi hain raahein pyaar ki, aur zindagi kum hai …
So long are the paths of love and hope, they oft outrun our lives. 
So hope I must, even as I mourn…

© Manreet Sodhi Someshwar