Roll of Honour by Amandeep Sandhu
In the second book, Roll of Honour Amandeep continues with his memoirs. Though this time he folds them in a fiction, interspersed with the present voice that makes you look at the impact of some events from the teenage years that refuse to go away. Or the author is not willing to let go off. This memoir covers his last year in a boarding school in an Army school in a fictional town called Jassabad in Punjab. Somewhere near Patiala. Where his parents lived during the mid-80s, which was the most turbulent time in Punjab for this generation. Kids grew up not knowing how the Hindus and Sardars were different. And suddenly now their religious identities were taking priority over every other identity.
Young Sikh boys were probably the worst affected. They were the prime targets for recruitments by the extremists as well as police. A Sardar with short hair was completely lost not knowing where he belonged. And if his confused identity will work for or against him.
The protagonist in his memoirs is going through many confusions and dilemmas. He was expecting to become a school perfect. But the school changed the rule and he could not. He is always struck between being one with his class and being truthful. He watches boys being attracted to each other and goes through the same himself. And he is attracted to women as expected at that age but has no access to any. He is stuck in school because of financial and family circumstances. And leaving the school is not really an option. He has seen a friend being killed. And the image of his body being dragged out haunts him.
On top of it, some school seniors enter the terrorist’s group. And hide in school under his protection. But every now and then between various arguments and fights he goes through a mental war within himself. Army school is a preparatory ground for future Army men. But given the circumstances, a lot of young men decide not to pursue the career. They are caught between the national and religious identity. There is this whole trauma of living in a boarding school, though there are lots of fun moments. But, I guess they tend to fade away faster than the bad ones.
I liked the parts where the young protagonist takes the train and reaches Delhi. Stays in a Gurudwara. And gets an insight that stays with him for a long time. And then the part where present voice goes looking for the 1984 victims and finds a namesake. I do not know of any other literature that covers the riots of 1984, or the psychological impact of it on the generation that was growing up then. I am told that after every big tragedy, it takes about a generation for the literature to come up.
Probably for the first few years, people are still watching what is going to happen. Then they are busy settling themselves again. And once that is done they look back. And see what happened and how it impacted them. While most people accept the situation and move on. Some get stuck in the time and find it difficult to move on. The author beautifully brings out the impact of external and internal violence in the life of a teenager in mid-1980s. It is an important piece of literature for a turbulent phase of Punjab written with an intensity that takes you back to the time. For those of us who were living in Punjab then, it stirs up a lot of emotions and memories.
While I admire the memoir, I am not happy with the language and editing. You tend to confuse the characters a lot of times. There is no effort to etch out the characters. They straight appear in the story amongst many characters. It took me quite a few pages to figure out the various characters. The editing sometimes confused the dialogues and mental thoughts of characters in a scene.
I sincerely hope this work Roll of Honour is translated into Punjabi for two reasons. One is, of course, Punjabi literature needs these stories. And second, the Punjabi language will make this story far more rich as some words can never be translated. A story written without the need to explain any word has an uninterrupted flow that is lost when not written in the native language. This enriches the whole experience of reading the story.
Read Roll of Honour to know the times that we hope now remain only in these pages.