Saturday, November 04, 2006

Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami

Category: Fiction

Format: Hardcover, 432 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Sharan, or Bibi-ji as she is now called, can remember spending hours as a little girl on her father's charpoy being regaled by the story of how he and many other Sikh men boarded the ship" Komagata Maru" to Canada and how upon arrival in Canada, the authorities refused to allow the poor, tired men to disembark; not just that, they wouldn't allow them to restock food or water either. They insisted the ship turn around with its human cargo and return to India. Sharan's father never got over the insult...he had spent all his earnings to pay for this journey to Canada. He returned to Punjab, India a broken man and never left his charpuoy except for one time when he wandered off, never to be seen or heard from again. Losing her father made Sharan determined to follow her father's dream and when her older sister received a proposal of marriage from a Sardar in Vancouver, Canada, 16-year old Sharan used her youth,beauty and charm to manipulate the groom's family and became the bride instead of her sister. Later, as maturity set in, she realized she had stolen her sister,Kanwar's fate and spent the rest of her life trying to make it up to Kanwar...but was it too late?

This is Anita Rau Badami's third book and with every every book she just seems to get better and better. This particular novel is ambitious, both in scope and subject matter - it follows the lives of three women and their families for 50 years across two continents and encompasses many of the notable political events that affected both the people from the subcontinent and the Indo-Canadian population, like the Partition of India in 1947; Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her own Sikh bodyguards in 1984; the book culminates with the Air India flight that left Vancouver (23June 1985)and exploded off the coast of Ireland, killing 329 people,mostly Indo-Canadians.

According to a Canadian Press report, the impetus for the book came after the author witnessed the sickening sight of a man’s body being dumped from a bridge in the course of
the 1984 anti-Sikh riots sparked off by Indira Gandhi’s killing, while she (the author) was in Northern India on her honeymoon.

(pic. courtesy Hongkong Book Festival)

Badami's writing is just delightful and guaranteed to stir up palpable images of Indian life
both in Indian and in Vancouver . She is a wiz, both at making your mouth water with her descriptions of hot,hot syrupy jelabis and mutton curry with naan and also at capturing the mania that the assassination of Indira Gandhi inspired and the revenge killings that followed. It is easy to love her characters because she infuses a lot of warmth, humanity, flaws and compassion into them, but, and this is her strongest point as a writer, she also gets you to think how very ordinary lives can be altered, sometimes to the point of being damaged, by sentiments inspired by politics, history and religion. It is happening all around the world, Dafur, Palestine, Iraq,North Korea, even as I type this! She also makes you question what it means to be an immigrant - do you ever truly shed the history of your birth country to embrace that of your adopted country or do you carry it with you for the rest of your life even handing it down to your children?

I bought this book after hearing Anita Rau Badami read from it at the IFOA and I'm so glad I did. I was just a kid during the Emergency and I wasn't that much older when the cries for a Khalistan began to echo through the country(India). I think this book is more than just a story- with the author's impeccable research it will serve to inform a whole generation of people, especially kids of the Indian diaspora as to the political happenings of those years, using the powerful medium of fiction.

Further Reading: My
kindred spirit's (anocturne of booklogging) review.


Sylvia said...

Hi Anjali:
So pleased to read your review of this book. I have just purchased an autographed copy and can't wait to get to it. She is such a marvellous writer, i just love her books.
At the moment I am reading "Fried Eggs With Chopsticks" I bought it yesterday just intending to take a quick peak but it got me hooked.
Should try to keep to one book at a time..sigh...I am struggling a bit with "Dancing Girls of Lahore" most probably beacause I keep putting it aside causing me to lose the thread...

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sylvia!

I'm so glad you're an Anita Rau Badami fan, too! Wasn't "Tamarind Mem" was an excellent book? I would tell people it was like sitting down to a nice childhood meal - all the memories it brought back to me!

"Fried Eggs with Chopsticks" remains my favorite book about travel in China - she narrates it so well, you almost feel like you're making the journey with her, no?

Sorry about "Dancing Girls", it's more of an anthropoligical account of the "Tawaifs"...I'm wondering if the read would get easier if you watched "Umrao Jaan"? I'm just shooting from the hip here - I don't know the story of Umrao Jaan, but she is a Tawaif, albeit a much more cultured one...

Princess Jibi said...

sounds like a really good book I love to read..but lately I have been easying up on the dramatic and sad ones... I get depressed for some reason when I read them... Thnx for commenting on my blog...what part of the tropics are you from?

Lotus Reads said...

You're welcome, Princess Jibi, it was nice of you to visit my anthropology blog and now this one.

I hear you about the sad books - I read two of them in quick succession and now I'm emotionally spent.

I'm from India and have lived in Canada for 6 years...I miss the warm weather!!!

beenzzz said...

Hi Lotus! This book sounds wonderful. My studies are focused on South Asian diasporas and this would be a great book for my library. I have only a handful of books for my "library." But, from what I've heard, by the time you have successfully completed a PhD, you should have a plethora of them. Tee hee!:) Thanks again! Oh, a book you might find interesting (if you haven't already read it) is called, "Making Ehtnic Choices, " by, Karen Isaksen Leonard. Its all about the Punjabi (Sikh Males mostly) diaspora in California and how they married Mexican women who immigrated there. Very interesting read.

Lotus Reads said...

Beenzzz, if you listen carefully you'll hear my heart thumping - that's how excited I get when I am given a delicious book recommendation! :)))

"Making Ethnic Choices" sounds like right up my alley, I will definitely have to check it out, thank you!

Would love to hear more about your studies on the South-Asian diaspora - sounds fascinating!

booklogged said...

I can't tell you how much I enjoy reading your reviews, Lotus. You share such interesting books and they are books I am not exposed to except on your blog. I'm adding this one to my list and hope I can get to it in March. I've overbooked myself (hey, that's a pun) until the end of Feb. with 2 reading challenges. They'll be fun and worthwhile, and I'm excited to do them. It's going to be hard because I'm not used to scheduling my reading for 4 months ahead of time.

anocturne said...

@Lotus: i'm so glad you mentioned the Komagata Maru. i tried to remember the name, but memory being what it is... it is important, and am glad you chose to begin your review with that benchmark incident. once again, it strikes me how wonderfully Badami gave a voice to the stories that had to be told.

thanks for the shoutout as well. :)

Saaleha said...

Sounds brilliant. Adding to my overly long list. And someday, perhaps not someday soon, I will get to it.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, booklogged!

Thank you for your kind words - it's wonderful the number of recommendations I have got from your blog and some of the other bloggers I visit. There are times I am so tempted to read only those books that have garnered rave reviews by my blogger friends but then I have to remind myself that the purpose of this blog is to showcase World and South-Asian glad you enjoy the reviews, you are a sport for coming out and cheering me on everytime I write a review, thank you!!!

Hi, anocturne!

Glad you enjoyed the review; I found it to be an incredibly powerful many issues for an anthropologist wannabe to ponder! ;) I have realized that I view most of the books I read through the eyes of an anthropologist - I have to actively remind myself to comment on the writing style and the other literary features of books read!

Hi, Saaleha

*rubbing hands gleefully* I realize you have the second installment of your new story out - going to rollerblade to your blog right away!

Beloved dreamer said...

Great review my friend, This also will be on my list. A Book meant for me.


paris parfait said...

Can't wait to read this book! Thanks for the heads-up!

fed up said...

You know, its a great injustice that the events of Nov 84 get termed "riots". L.A. in 1992 was a riot. This was a mass extermination of a specific ethnic/religious community.

Anonymous said...

hello, i am an indian my self and lived in canada for years. i really liked reading this book, brought back all thoese memories!
kso i only have a question, why did she chose this topic for this book, i mean the title "can you hear the nightbird call?"

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Anon

Really lovely to blog-meet you! :)
I read this book so long ago that I can't remember the signifance of the title. Isn't that awful? I will try racking my brains and see what comes out! :)

Anonymous said...

hey Lotus, i am glad that you replied.
out of many books, i chose this for my english assignment which is due in 2 days :(
i have to complete this, before monday. all i cant find or think why she chose this?
oh and i have other things to do for this book too!
but i dont want you to answer them here, because it will show up in the plagiarism site :(

Lotus Reads said...

Hey Anon, is this for a High School course? I'm trying to reach Anita Rau Badami but she doesn't have a FB account. I'll see if she's on Twitter, that way, we can ask her directly.

Anonymous said...

so sure, but it is due this monday,am i too late?
and yes it is!
is it possible to send the details in my personal email?
-Thank you so much :)

Anonymous said...

hey lotus, any updates?

Lotus Reads said...

None whatsoever, so sorry. She's not on FB, nor is she on Twitter. Good luck with your assignment. Let me know how it goes, OK?