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'In the Land of the Lovers' book review: Crash course in Punjabiyat

Nanaki (named after Guru Nanak’s sister) lives with her maternal grandparents in Chandigarh since she was a toddler, when her parents tragically passed away in a highway accident.

Published: 02nd August 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st August 2020 04:54 PM   |  A+A-

Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib located in the Punjab province, Pakistan

Nanaki (named after Guru Nanak’s sister) lives with her maternal grandparents in Chandigarh since she was a toddler, when her parents tragically passed away in a highway accident. As a young girl, she watches the quilt-maker at work and is fascinated by geometric phulkari patterns on fabrics and the intricate tapestry created by their silk threads.

The story goes on to resonate with local paintings, handicrafts and embroidery, which in itself make up one of its strongest elements. A grown-up Nanaki meets an architect with a troubled childhood. Along with him, she works on an art project for a heritage birding resort in Kasauli.On winter evenings, Nanaki’s grandmother (Biji) would tell her stories about her Pakistan days, their old red brick haveli that they left behind in Okara village and the days before Partition.

On her part, Nanaki could never understand the Partition—its “blunt perpetration of injustice”, “brutal human savagery” and “sheer absurdity”. “One fine day you are told to just move, to leave your house and move—lock, stock and barrel. Actually, no, you are not even properly told—you are threatened and made so vulnerable that there is no choice. And then you begin to move in the opposite direction, to a place where a family just like yours is ousted and is now headed in your direction.

They end up in your house; wild creatures, like Goldilocks, trying out your chairs, your tables, your beds, your porridge. They take what suits them. The rest is discarded. At the other end, you end up in a strange house too. Secrets long buried, leaping out of cupboards. You kill their people, they kill yours. Blood flows. Collateral damage. Dislocations and settlements.

Goings and comings.” The narrative has an extremely deep sense of place, and often takes you on a ride through Punjab’s towns and villages, its “malai culture” (‘more milk = more love’) amidst snatches of Rawalpindi Punjabi. Images of all things Punjab—Patiala salwars, lungis, duppattas, jutties, lassi and The Tribune—dot each paragraph.

Vivid descriptions of the state’s darker issues—its multiple woes of bureaucracy, drug addiction and farmer suicides—come to the fore. The chapters are also interspersed with some interesting satire by Marasis—traditional tramp-like figures in Punjabi theatre, who though in a comical way, bring out the plight of the common man during turbulent times.

The book also throws light on interesting anecdotes about the history of Chandigarh, for instance when it was established post-Partition and during the period of the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. The author writes that the reason why the “city beautiful” was probably chosen as Punjab’s capital over “Lahore’s twin”—Amritsar—and “Manchester of the East”—Ludhiana—was the state’s dire need to escape the reminders of the past and start afresh with a city without memory.

The narrative has an extremely deep sense of place, and often takes you on a ride through Punjab’s towns and villages amidst snatches of Rawalpindi Punjabi

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