Sikhs Read: Roll of Honour by Amandeep Sandhu
ROLL OF HONOUR, by Amandeep Sandhu.
Rupa, Delhi, 2012. English, paperback, pp 252
ISBN-13: 9788129120236; ISBN-10: 8129120232
1984. Operation Blue Star has just ended and the Indian Army is arresting and killing innocent Sikhs. Appu is back at military school in Jassabad, Punjab, for his final year. He looks forward to three things: being class in-charge, passing out, and securing a place in the National Defence Academy.
Then ex-student Balraj, now a Khalistani separatist on the run, takes refuge on campus and the violence outside comes to school. Some of the seniors decide to help Balraj, the decision splits the school along sectarian lines, and students are forced to take sides. There is rampant bullying — sodomy being the preferred tool of domination — and long-time friends find themselves on opposing sides. As the situation spirals out of control, Appu, who wants nothing more than to live his dreams, is forced to make the impossible choice between community and nation.
Gritty, honest and tautly paced, Roll of Honour is a frank examination of the consequences of misplaced honour, allegiance and integrity.
It is a story of split loyalties of a Sikh boy studying in a military school in Punjab in the year 1984. It is about Operation Bluestar, Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination, riots, and the hard life in a residential school. It deals with issues of bullying and terrorism and how these affect the youth.
An interview with the author Amandeep Sandhu :
What was your motivation to write this book?
Life. Once you have seen militancy from both the sides, the government and the separatists, and still survived it, you realize that you have lost your mind. The sad part is that in the last twenty-five years since 1984 we have had more issues, more killings, and have become an even more unsafe society. I am speaking of the struggle of the Tamil Eelam, Babri Masjid, Bombay, Urdu language riots in Bangalore, Godhra and Gujarat, Kokhrajar, issues in the North East India, Kashmir, Telangana and so on. With such events the world seems to have become an asylum. The only way I knew to reclaim myself was to go through the issues and find my answers. We need to reclaim our sanity, to make peace with ourselves. Hence, the need to write.
Is it because, being a Sikh you could naturally connect to the subject and wanted to portray your feelings?
No. A non-Sikh from North India could have done a book like this. Anyone from anywhere in the world who can prevail upon violence in his or her part of the world and the book s/he would write would be a book of similar themes. The advantage of being a Sikh is that I could find the space and understanding to question some of the radical Sikh stances. In that sense it is both easy and risky. Easy because it is familiar, risky because it is risky to stand outside your community and speak about it.
Do you think that these episodes in history still reverberate in the minds of today’s youth?
Yes, they do. The youth is concerned but does not find answers to questions, to violence, to corruption, to betrayal of ideologies, to political stances which change ever so often. I feel those of us in our 40s and 50s, who were young in the 80s and 90s, tried our best but did not do enough to guide the youth, to tap the energies of the youth. At the same time crass consumerism has taken over, the need to brand ourselves in the bazaar of capitalism and to find ways to escape the misery of pointless struggle. I am not generalizing. The youth of the country is a huge population and also very diverse with so many issues. We are heading into a boom of first time voters – people between 20 to 25 years. In such a scenario what we can do is to reflect upon those times, seek answers to our confusions. A lot of groups have done a lot of work in the area but the voices need to grow. We need to speak, we need to open spaces for dialogue, we need to heal and then move forward. Roll of Honour is a step in that direction.
The timing of the book is opportune with the light of religion induced riots?
Well the book has been a long time in the making. I wanted it for the 25th anniversary of Operation Bluestar but I wasn’t ready with it. In some ways I am satisfied that it has come out now, after a major verdict in the Naroda Patiya case. I hope other cases come up for hearing; the 1984 cases reach some kind of closure, we need to keep knocking on the doors of justice incessantly.
Who is the book targeted to?
I write for myself but when the writing shapes into a book I like to see it released. In my previous book Sepia Leaves I engaged with the stigma around mental illness. In this I look at a social madness. My target audience is all of us who wish to reflect upon where we have taken ourselves as a nation over the last three decades and seek answers to what we can do to make our society safer.
Excerpt from Roll of Honour
“In his last history lesson in class X, after we had finished the syllabus, Chhola had reminded us about lost and forgotten kings, about cultures and civilizations, discoveries and inventions, heroes and heroines who we may have forgotten but who had lessons to teach us. The lessons were always about those who were brave, broke rules and took risks, kings who won big battles, whether Babur or Chandragupta Maurya. I enjoyed the visions they created in my mind: of me riding on horseback in full armour, leading the charge with a sword in hand. My grandfather’s sword. The maharaja of Patiala had gifted it to him as reward for his bravery during the Second World War in the forests of Burma. Nanaji had defended his post with sixteen people, kept the eight-hundred-strong enemy at bay for four days until they got air support. With jewels on the hilt and a blade so sharp, I could cut through Chhola and Lalten’s words. Nanaji’s Military Cross hung in a place of pride on the wall of our drawing room. I realized I would never earn any medal in my life. Even after Chhola had caught me, I was unable to confess that I had gone out. I was a coward.
I felt exhausted when I woke up early the next morning. We got ready for PT. As A-1 had suggested, I gave Chhola the report and pretended nothing has happened. Chhola busied himself with office work in the front office of the house, next to the house Roll of Honour with my name on it. It was still cold when we came back from PT. To open our shoelaces we warmed our fingers under running water and skipped our baths. My heart, too, was frozen but there was no running water for that. That was when I knew that this was how I would have to live from then onwards—well dressed outside but dirty on the inside. Two-faced. Who care about Roll Of Honour any longer? “
Interview by Preeti Kulkarni
Other books by the Author: Sepia Leaves