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