The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 24, 2003

Short takes
Freedom was the song of her life
Jaswant Singh

Sarojini Naidu: Nightingale of India
by Nimeran Sahukar. Rupa, New Delhi. Pages 63. Rs 195.

Sarojini Naidu: Nightingale of IndiaTO capture Sarojini Naidu in words is a task not easy to perform. This poet, politician, and humanist, who dedicated her life to the cause of the country’s freedom, opted for politics in place of poetry as the focus of her life. Yet she is called the Nightingale of India, because of the rhythmic and melodious nature of her poems.

As a politician, she stood out amidst giants of the freedom struggle by virtue of her dedication to the cause of independence. She responded to the country’s call and plunged into the struggle disregarding all her poetic urges and became a dominating force on the national scene. Initiated into politics by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, she started her political journey in the company of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other political titans of that period. Her relationship with Gandhi was a blend of admiration and companionship. To Gandhi she was a daughter, a confidante, a friend and a nurse. She was the only person in the country who could make fun of Mahatma Gandhi, call him Mickey Mouse, and get away with it. Yet she carved out a place for herself in every Indian heart as a patriot devoted to the cause of her country’s freedom.


There is enough in this small book to draw a picture of this remarkable daughter of an eminent Bengali Brahmin family who married a Tamilian despite all opposition, who has been acclaimed as one of the great poets of our times, who led the "salt satyagraha," when Gandhi was imprisoned and she herself went to jail, and who always fought tirelessly for the rights of women. On her death on March 2, 1947, Nehru said: "Just as the Father of the Nation had infused grandeur and greatness into the struggle, Sarojini Naidu gave it artistry and poetry and that zest for life and that indomitable spirit which not only faced disaster and catastrophe, but faced them with a light heart and with a song on her lips and a smile on her face."

The Bold Brave and Fearless
by Tejwant Singh. Sanbun Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 281, Rs 250.

The Bold Brave and FearlessThis novel depicts tension between British and Indian troops in a cantonment in the mid-thirties of the last century and also a modern-day romance between an American salesgirl and a strapping Sikh youth in a small US town. The two tales are woven together with a thin thread of coincidence.

The army tensions show up in Peshawar Cantonment, where the British are planning a major offensive against unruly frontier tribes. A corporal of the British Military Police hurls an ethnic abuse at a Sikh naik and hits him with a cane. The naik retaliates with a heavy backhand swipe that sends the corporal reeling over an adjoining hedge. At an identification parade the corporal is unable to recognise the Sikh naik.

Then follows a chain of events that build up a story of loyalty of the troops and the sense of justice and fair play of the officers.

The modern-day love story in a small American town develops three decades after the Peshawar incident. A salesgirl in a store falls for a tall and handsome Sikh engineer, mistaking him for an Indian prince. The young man loses no time in removing the girl’s misconception, but the romance flourishes and the two get married in a church. The young man’s parents, however, put a condition that they will have to visit India and go through a traditional Sikh wedding.

Then comes the girl’s Punjab experience — a drive on bumpy roads amidst herds of cattle, wedding songs, a traditional Sikh wedding, and a father-in-law, an old soldier with a special knack for storytelling. The simple small-town American girl surprisingly becomes a linguist, a polyglot, who discovers remarkable similarities between a number of Punjabi words and their equivalents in English, French, German, even Latin.

But the biggest surprise comes when the old soldier narrates his three-decade-old adventure in Peshawar Cantonment. That forms the link between the present and the past. The American bride turns out to be the daughter of the racist corporal reeling over a hedge.

The first half of the novel narrates the boy-meets-girl romance and their visit to a village near Karnal. The second half, which is the most absorbing part of the tale, relates to events in Peshawar Cantonment. Once you reach this part of the book, you would not like to put it down till you have reached the end.