“History was alive and entangled in everyday stories of India, and it needed to be coaxed onto the pages of a book”.
“The Radiance of a Thousand Suns” is the story of Niki Nalwa who undertakes to finish her father’s lifelong work of writing a book. A book about the oral stories of Partition of India and the riots of 1984. The Nalwa family’s history is intertwined with the history of the country, starting from the Partition of the country to the days of emergency to the riots of 1984 to the turbulent years of militancy in Punjab to 9/11 to modern-day racism in New York. Also intertwined is the story of Mahabharat, the story of brothers at war, of Draupadi and of reminding us, that violence begets violence.
This book is like Nooran’s bagh, a colourful tapestry of stories, of Nooran’s fearlessness, Zohra Nalwa’s desire to get justice for riot victims, Niki’s feminism and the desire to complete her father’s work, Meher’s innocent adolescence and Jyot’s sacrifice and suffering. It might feel very simple, but sometimes even simple has the power to move you, raise gooseflesh, draw tears in your eyes and break your heart. Nooran, Zohra, Niki, Meher and Jyot are not only characters in the book, but they are a part of us all. They are amongst us when we love our children, scold them, motivate them, teach them to be good humans.
The author evokes memories of simpler times when she mentions “choori” or “karah prasad”, you smile as you read as it brings back comforting memories of your own childhood. However, like in Niki’s childhood, there are wisps of dark in your childhood too, you remember the hushed whispers of massacres in 1984, of the curfew and the soldier keeping guard on your street. With Jyot’s story, the generic becomes personal, you are horrified by the violence in Jyot’s life. Jyot’s life becomes a metaphor for all the women in conflict areas, the ones who face violence and destruction over and over again, all because of the games that men play, the games of war and power.
In the book, Niki mentions that while there have been countless books/movies about the Holocaust, the Partition of India ( which was no less catastrophic) has been relegated to the footnotes of History, even Indian history. A deeply disturbing , yet a true fact. Quite a few of us also forget that so many people who had to bear the horrors of Partition had to again face the horrors of 1984 as well. It is almost as if the violence followed them irrespective of where they were, they couldn’t escape its bloody clutches. Partition on the surface may have affected Punjab and Bengal the most, however, it’s repercussions are felt even now, not in the least in the instinctive acrimony between India and Pakistan.
Even though this is a Punjab/Sikh centric book its appeal is not limited to that region as this book, at its heart, is about women. Women who give birth and are yet relegated to the shadows; women whose bodies are to be conquered to show-off manhood; women whose bodies become battlefields when brothers fight wars over land; women who are made to follow rules and archaic customs in the name of religion.
There are certain books for which writing a review is very difficult. The book might have touched you, moved you to tears, left you heartbroken, stayed with you constantly. You want people to discover the beauty of the book, but as you sit down to write, you struggle to find words that would do justice to the author and to your emotions on reading the book. Yet you somehow persevere as you know such books are required in current times of mistrust when humans are against one another. When once again, the price will be paid by women. I hope I have done justice to the book and can motivate people to read this beautiful book, a book which will make you pause and think, about your actions and how they affect us all.