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No Easy Answers

A gritty novel about a difficult time in history

Written by Santosh Singh |
October 27, 2012 3:48:43 am

Book: Roll of Honour

Author: Amandeep Sandhu

Publisher: Rupa

Price: Rs 275

Pages: 242

One could wonder why the anti-Khalistan action was called Operation Bluestar and not Operation Vijay,for instance. Here lies the dilemma of the Indian state,which has failed to explain the 1984 events in Punjab.

Amandeep Sandhu,a military school product,a farmhand,a journalist and now a technical writer,weaves his personal experience with political turmoil in Roll of Honour,his second book.

Appu the narrator is a student at a military school in Jassabad,Punjab,who dreams of making it to the National Defence Academy and being on the honour roll of his class. In a post-Operation Bluestar Punjab Appu finds that freedom is clamped down upon. The army is viewed with suspicion,having entered the sanctum of the Golden Temple in an effort to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

The school soon splits along sectarian lines when ex-student Balraj,now a Khalistani militant,takes refuge there. Appu notices how his schoolmates adopt Bhindranwale as an overpowering idea rather than an identity annihilated by the mighty state. It is not just youngsters,some parents are also confused about how to react to the idea of Khalistan. They are dismayed at how the powers that be can make a hero and a villain out of Bhindranwale at the same time.

Appu is a willing fence sitter. He does not subscribe easily to views,nor does he repent over how things could have been done differently before and after 1984. Roll of Honour is blunt and honest where characters do not wear masks and where others are expected to shed them. It also exposes the hubris of military discipline,which cares more about crease-less uniforms and well-polished shoes than inculcating real values.

Tales of seniors using sodomy to bully and dominate juniors in the military hostel may hurt sensibilities. But Sandhu has told the naked truth in naked words in one breath.

This is a story of turbulence told with a calm head,without tears,judgement or a wasted word. The narrator may be back on his Delhi terrace watching visiting parakeets and pigeons but readers are left stranded at the Jassabad school wondering whose “roll of honour” was Operation Bluestar,anyway.

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