Roll Of Honour
Roll of Honour landed on my table at a time when the news of former Indian Army General KS Brar surviving a bid on his life in London flooded the newspapers. Brar had sustained injuries but survived the assault. Many believe the attack was meant to avenge Operation Bluestar. A mere mention of Operation Bluestar demands the topic be handled with care. Such is the emotive appeal of the issue that even 28 years after the storming of the Golden Temple, it continues to haunt the memory of Punjab.
Roll of Honour begins with the end of Operation Bluestar. Sikh militancy, Khalistan Movement, assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi and the subsequent sectarian riots across the country are closely related and sensitive issues. Any attempt to deal with the subject is unlikely to satisfy one and all. Amandeep Sandhu, the author of the novel, however, has made a reasonably good attempt to do justice to the then socio-political and economic concerns of 1984 Punjab.
The main character of the story, Appu, is a Sikh by birth, although with shorn tresses. The plot centres around a military school in the fictional city of Jassabad, where the main ambition of the schoolchildren is to make it to the National Defence Academy.
Life in the military school is not easy. The regular classroom teachings play a secondary role here and discipline is the foremost priority of the school. And to become a disciplined soldier means undergoing a tough ragra (punishment) session.
The pivotal position in the ragra lies with the school prefect. However, life changes when the outgoing prefect, Balraj, seeks shelter on the school campus as he had turned a Khalistan militant and was wanted by the police. Balrajs entry divides students on sectarian line. In a bid to maintain the aggression of the movement on the campus, there is rampant bullying. And sodomy emerges as the most preferred tool of domination.
And amid the chaotic situation is Appu, who seeks to know the truth. Therefore, he goes to Delhi to seek those Sikhs who were displaced from their shelters after the anti-Sikh riots. Many people would not find a reason in his quest for truth. Wekhen What is there to see a riot-affected Sikh staying at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib asks him.
Nonetheless, Appu sees things and returns home. Moved by the conditions in Delhi, he decides to grow his hair again and starts wearing a turban. But carrying a Sikh identity in the trouble-torn state does not come easy.
Roll of Honour is Sandhus second book. As a storyteller, Sandhu is yet to establish himself, but he knows the art of storytelling for sure. It is not an easy job to give a fair treatment to this sensitive subject, but Sandhu managed to pull the strings well. On the flip side, Sandhu discusses the 1984 events but maintains a fair distance from everything, which to many readers only adds to the confusion and prevents them from getting a strong feel of the volatile situation. It may appear that this is a book on the days of Punjab militancy and depicts emotions of 1984, but it is about the dominion the powerful and those in command hold sway.
Plot and narration of the book are simple and attractive. However, presence of innumerable characters may add to the confusion.And if one is looking at the political analysis and turn of events, Roll of Honour could well be a disappointment. But if the book is taken for a read without any preconceived ideas, it is an interesting read.