The very core of what we are is our identity. What then is Beyond Identity? Here the author, using fiction as a vehicle, courageously explores issues that arouse passions and indeed, are used to justify violence against fellow beings who do not share the same version of identity as a particular group.
The Sikhs are a visible minority — their turbans make them stand out in a crowd, as the cover of the book also shows. In the pages of this book, we embark on a journey that takes us through the tumultuous 1980s and into the future. On the way, we also take a tour of major capitals of the world, and become au fait with international politics, culture and the working of international organisations.
Ranjit Singh is an ordinary man caught in the maelstrom that was then Punjab. A peripheral player in the events that were unfolding, he is a good student, a dutiful son and an indulgent brother who is discovering his potential and daring to dream`85. He falls in love with Amrita, but they do not live happily after.
Ranjit is caught in the vortex of violence that became Punjab of the 1980s. He loses everything, including his brother and parents and his home. He escapes from the frying pan of Punjab into the fire of Delhi, and eventually to the sanctuary of London.
Here he loses the only thing he had left, his identity — literally because he has to take a new name, and a different persona. Like the community that he represents, his personality is transformed over time, and he loses himself in a new identity.
In London, he meets another displaced person, a Jewish girl. He eventually falls in love with her, marries her, only to lose her like he lost his first love—through violence. Again, he is a victim of circumstances.
Can there be a Virtual State, one that transcends the Westphalian concept of sovereign nation states? Ranjit explores the idea. Well, minorities the world over have different dynamics than majority communities. They seek to be accepted as equal players, but this never happens. How should minorities get their place in the sun? For Ranjit the answer lies in the Virtual State.
While "We are the World", is the new mantra, we are still torn apart by geographical and ethnic problems. The author’s "virtual state" concept is an alluring one, which deserves attention. We have embraced the concept of a global village, the advances in communications technology, especially the Internet, and the increasing transnational nature of business and social ties. Geographical borders have become blurred and new models of interaction between peoples of various persuasions and nationalities are being sought.
Beyond Identity works at multiple levels as it takes us along through complex passages to a rewarding conclusion. At times the story takes a backseat and discussion dominates, new ideas are thrown up and issues are thrashed out, but then the protagonists return to propel us forward thought towards a different direction.
We still want to know if Ranjit meets Amrita, he does, but she is no longer the small town girl from Banga in Punjab. Now, she is a sophisticated, westernised career woman. Ranjit whose life was so unfulfilled finds posthumous recognition. Beyond Identity is a book that you will, just as this reviewer did, want to read and discuss.