For 42 years, India has been Alisabeth J Singh’s second home, and Punjab the place where her heart and soul find joy and peace. Looking resplendent in a saree, and conversing in chaste Hindi at the release of her book Oh… India! (Good Times Books) here in Chandigarh, Alisabeth, who belongs to Oslo in Norway, asserts that her book is a new voice, offering fresh glimpses from an India of the 21st century.
“I had been attracted to India since my childhood and was once married to a Punjabi, and in this country, I discovered so much about myself and people. The experiences have been both rewarding and challenging, and this book is a result of my deep connect with the country, its innumerable facets, and its genuine, generous and amazing people,’’ said Alisabeth, who is also a visual artist and publisher.
The 12 stories in Oh… India! are contemporary reports from a society, both Punjabi and elsewhere in the country, vacillating between old and new times, and describe people and situations from new angles. “Stories, articles, travelogues. I don’t really know how to describe my writings, but what I know is that we all have so many stories in our hearts, which we don’t share. My understanding of Hindi, Indian history, culture, opened many doors to events and happenings. All the stories are inspired by real events and incidents, and are a result of several years of observation and reflection, but have been fictionalised, and presented in a personal manner,” said Alisabeth, who loves to paint landscapes, with the cow as a motif, appearing frequently in her art.
Oh… India, explained the author, is a sigh of love and a sigh of despair. “The India I knew is about to vanish, but India has survived many brutal attacks, and the world in transition is a world that gives me something to write about. Many characters in the book are working-class Indians, who may not seem very special from the outside, but their struggles, honesty and hardships make you bow your head in respect. Without their loyal cooperation, India would come to a halt.”
The first story in the book starts in the heart of Punjab and the last a strange encounter on a flight with a man from Jalandhar undertaking his first long journey outside Punjab, that too far away in Finland.
A number of stories are on Delhi, where Alisabeth has spent a lot of her time on India. She also writes about the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar and the ‘unholy’ Holi, while one of the stories is about a widow in a Madhya Pradesh village who is looking for a little happiness, but which proves too much to ask from society.
Among Alisabeth’s other experiences is her meeting with the Ganga in Varanasi and her horrifying encounter in a hotel housing a brothel in Lucknow.
“India is such a vast and complex country. Whatever you tell and claim to be true, can always find its opposite and still be true. These are my stories,” said Alisabeth.