THE END OF INNOCENCE
By Moni Mohsin
Price: Rs 395 Pages: 353
For an Indian reader, this book is a curious experience; rather like stepping through the looking-glass into a world where everything seems intimately familiar, except for a basic distortion which startles and dismays.
Eight-year-old Laila is born into a Pakistani Punjabi family which could easily be an Indian one. She has the same liberal, English-speaking parents, is spoilt and petted by the domestic servants and has a doting grandmother who bemoans her sun-darkened skin. Laila devours Enid Blyton and is constantly on the lookout for "mysteries" to solve.
Exactly the way I grew up. Except that running through the book, like a grim leitmotif, is a fear and hatred of Indians. A village boy brags of a brother who is a soldier "strong as a bull. I bet the Indians run like squawking chickens when they see him". A peasant becomes an instant hero by recounting how he shook his fist at an Indian plane, shouting, "Get out of here, you coward!" And a belligerent Colonel looks forward to giving "the Indians a bloody nose".
Granted, the story is set in 1971, when east Pakistan had started its bid for Independence, but the jingoism of the west Pakistanis is disquieting, particularly when it is coupled with a haughty condescension towards their eastern compatriots. Laila's parents are the only ones who question this attitude towards their fellow Pakistani citizens, but theirs is not the popular view and is seen as being of a piece with their liberal-minded approach towards social inferiors.
Against this backdrop Laila, a child of privilege, forms a friendship with Rani, the teenage grand-daughter of a family servant and unwittingly betrays her by an act which unleashes tragic consequences upon the community, and not least upon Laila herself. We leave her asking her father, "How long before India invades us?" By now Laila is 38 and the year is 2001, when India is desperate to play economic catch-up with China. Brilliantly told, this is a coming of age story which explores social mores, national prejudices, family ties and the nature of guilt. It is a tale of innocence corrupted by pervasive paranoia. Pakistani paranoia, as much as ours, seen in reflection.
By Kuldip Nayar
Price: Rs 250 Pages: 214
An insider's analysis of significant events over the last sixty years
By Dilip Bobb
There is a curious angle to this book. Nayar is in the process of finishing his autobiography which, presumably, will cover the same ground, albeit in greater detail. As one of India's best-known journalists, Nayar has earned an enviable reputation. Now semi-retired, this book is a collection of his best work, but sketchily done. It offers a ring side view of significant political events with Nayar's personal insights into the people who instigated them and the atmospherics and motivation behind the decisions. In that sense, this book is history in the making, spanning the most important news-stories of the last six decades.
The book is part personal memoir accompanied by his characteristically biting commentaries on national and regional politics. Yet, one gets the impression that this rather slim volume is only a marketing prelude to the autobiography. The result is a thumbnail sketch of contemporary Indian history, starting with Gandhi's assassination and ending with Atal Behari Vajpayee's ill-fated bus ride to Lahore. His impressive collection of scoops, including the first confirmation of Indira Gandhi's still-secret decision to hold elections and relax the Emergency, makes for a gripping read.
Most of the book is his analysis of significant moments in Indian history, pre and post Partition. Also, since his autobiography is imminent, this book merely skims the surface, going over familiar ground, with just a few sentences added on at the end as a contemporary update. For those interested in the life and times of one of India's most celebrated and incisive journalists, it may be advisable to skip the side dish and wait for the meatier main course.