Amandeep Sandhu Interview
For Roll of Honour Review – http://vaultofbooks.com/b/review-roll-honour
Does religion propel violence?
Not by itself, but the ego of the practitioner does. When one follows a path and believes his/her path is the best and everybody else should follow it, sometimes s/he uses force to spread his/her message. Of course, I use ‘sometimes’ ironically for most of human kinds’ wars have erupted from religious causes.
Do residential schools lay out a long path between parents and children?
Long path? If by that you mean if residential schools increase the distance between children and parents then the answer is: not necessarily so but yes. When a child is in a residential school the parents and children do miss the daily interaction and sometimes are unable to express their difficulties to each other. This often leads to great distances between them but it is also a process of growing up for a child. Adolescence is a difficult period anyway, there are many ruptures and residential schools only partly contribute to the confusions. Distances also come in in small, tightly knit families.
Schizophrenia, sodomy – such experiences and personal encounters often bring back bad memories. Through your stories how do you wade the grey pond?
Yes, I chose to wade the pond. I chose to bring language to express difficult realities. I feel it necessary that we confront those realities and try and make sense out of them and live with greater understanding and less fear.
Operation Blue Star will remain a black hole in the modern history of India. How did you gather information on the Operation?
I was in Punjab in 1984 so I was aware of how the people felt. I heard the news of Bhindranwale’s death on BBC radio. Later I sourced the recording of Bhindranwale speeches from the Damdami Taksal, read Mark Tully and Satish Jacob’s book Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle, Lt Gen Brar’s book and accounts by many survivors to get the facts in place.
You say “Operation Blue Star is an act of sodomy.” How true is that? And how has it affected or crippled our nation since then?
That is a literary expression. A literary expression will show us a way of looking at events and that is what this expression does. The Operation managed to alienate a significant population of the country. I think it is after this Operation and the anti-Sikh riots a few months later the Sikh sentiment was that the community’s social contract with the country started eroding. People started actively looking for ways to go abroad, to not belong to India any more.
What’s your opinion on Indira Gandhi?
She was a lonely daughter of an illustrious father who wanted to better him in her life. She was iron-willed, a strong presence in world politics but also drunk on her own ego and surrounded by a few very obliging followers. She over estimated her power and ended up making some grave mistakes, not only in Punjab but also on how she came to look upon the nation as a fiefdom (post Emergency) and not a society she was meant to serve. Her life is a tragedy in the largest sense.
Surely, Emergency is termed as one of India’s ‘blackest hours’. How do you see that?
India has had many dark hours since the Emergency. Nellie was a dark hour, Blue Star was another, then the riots, Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Rajiv’s assassination Babri Masjid, Bombay blasts, Godhra, Kandhamahal, not to forget Kashmir, IPKF, Gorkhaland, Manipur, Assam, the list is too long. We now live in the dark ages, such that nothing seems dark anymore, zeros keep getting added to figures of corruption, we know politicians are sold out, women and minorities are unsafe, around 40 percent of the country is not with the nation: Maoist areas, Telangana, and so on … Emergency seemed bad because it also curbed the affluent classes. Now there are more affluent classes but if you look at the nation as a whole, we are doing much worse because we are less hopeful about tomorrow.
Indians have the liberty and freedom to live and work anywhere they want. But why is there a division? Maharashtra is for Maharashtrians, North East Indians are driven away. This sort of small mindedness has to be changed.
Conflicts of insider/outsider arise when resources are threatened. These conflicts will arise in each part of the country unless we learn to manage our resources. I am not sure we have the liberty of living and working everywhere in the country. We have inner line permits in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, parts of Kashmir. That basically means the state reserves the right to deny permission to travel, limit visit times. We have rules forbidding outsiders, to a region, from buying land in certain states. The change will be when we as a nation accord equal status to all citizens and practise ways in which each of us feels proud to be part of this country, we stop looking upon each other through the lens of mistrust and each of us feels our regional, linguistic, and religious identity is safe.
In your book, Baba says to Appu “First deserve, then desire. You are entitled to a struggle, not the benefits.” Could you explain this statement? It’s apt for human existence and survival and success, of course.
Well, it is the Bhagvad Gita, isn’t it? Often, many of us feel we want this or that, we want it because we are so and so’s child, we belong here or there, or whatever. This is a statement against our notions of entitlement. Each of us needs to recognize that rights and duties go hand in hand. We have a choice only to our duties, the benefits are not in our hands.
While your first novel, Sepia Leaves dealt with Schizophrenia; your second novel Roll of Honour deals with searching for an identity. That’s how well I can put it. What do you say?
You are right. In life, there are a few basic questions we all need to ask ourselves. The first book asks the question: where am I coming from? The second explores: who am I?
Shakespeare’s King Lear is mentioned in Roll of Honour. Do you see this novel as a tragedy?
Yes, it is. Even if one were to write an account of those days in black humour, the story would be a tragedy. Terrorism and bullying are tragic.
How do you zero in on the title? Unusual titles like Sepia Leaves and Roll of Honour.
With the first book I took a long time deciding the title, it sought to evoke the idea of an old album of photographs but the cover page did not suit the book. With the second one I knew it would be called after the huge boards at school where the illustrious students had their names written. It sought to evoke the idea of a list of names of those who had faced life and not just joined a profession.
What makes you write? Stories or people?
Experience of living.
How different is Amandeep Sandhu the person from the writer?
People say I am more genial with a healthy sense of humour.
“Violence can never stop violence” how far can this succeed?
It is, but that does not mean we should abjure it completely. Violence is a tool which must be used with judgement and restraint. In the face of gross injustice, after all recourse has failed, it is legitimate to use violence but use it against the sin not the sinner.