The book, a result of crowdfunding, is a volume about the Sikh diaspora. A collection of 10 short stories, it talks about various situations and concerns that Sikhs at different levels of society must handle. Many of the stories are relevant to any strata of the Indian society, but the author strives to root them into the community by creating settings and, from time to time, using language that a Punjabi might use.
The anthology starts with The Recurring Dream which is a story about the aching heart of Bally Dhillon. As is true of so many aspirational Punjabis, Bally migrates to Canada in search of a better life. While he finds prosperity in the country, his heart always longs for home and his bebe (mother).
Under the Banyan Tree takes the reader to a village in Punjab, where the elders gather around an old banyan tree, playing cards, gossiping and talking about life and times. In the next story Grewal takes us to Delhi and introduces us to Dolly, a young gold-digger in search of a rich husband. She marries into a prosperous family of refugees from Pakistan who have subsequently become successful entrepreneurs. Dolly’s journey is nicely handled as she rapidly transforms into an obnoxious ‘high society’ lady, with the shallowest of values. She does have a moment of comeuppance in the end, however, which probably makes her wonder if her flighty life has been worth it.
Desi Hip Hop King follows the journey of the simple Jagdeep Singh Sekhon who transforms into the rock star, Jacky S. His rise to stardom is meteoric and one he can’t handle as he is swept by the tide of success and adulation. However, a shocking episode jolts him back into good sense and he reforms.
In The Five Meter Burden, we meet Kanwar Singh Cheema of Pune who, as a college student, chops his hair to look like his fellow students but is reminded of his identity by a French-Muslim girl.
Wanted — An NRI Groom is in the form of diary entries by the bubbly Sukhmanpreet Kaur Dhaliwal from Amritsar who desperately wants an NRI groom, under any circumstance. “Like most girls of Punjab, I just love everything about marriages. Clothes, make-up, jewellery, tradition, bhangra, dancing, chhed-chhaad.” Sukhmanpreet is quite endearing in her unashamed enthusiasm for getting hitched to an NRI. But again, it is predictable as the story of the bride who does find an NRI husband in Melbourne but eventually ends up longing for home and nostalgia.
Grewal’s stories are simple and easy to read. Her characters, however, are uni-dimensional and the stories linear. Not too many surprises or challenges in the book for the reader but she does try to encompass as many ‘Punjabi’ scenarios as possible. The moral tone of the book is rather distinctive and one wishes that there was rather more subtlety in the messages.