Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roll of Honour by Amandeep Sandhu - A Review

It does not happen often that I have no clue as to how I should begin a post, especially a post pertaining to my thoughts on a book. Mostly, I am clear about the impression a book has formed on me. I can be good or bad, but in long I have not come across anything that has made an 'extremely good' impression on me, and has impacted me deeply. A book can be more than mere entertainment. It can make you think. And it can stay with you for long, long after you have turned over its last page.

Roll Of Honour - the second novel of Amandeep Sandhu falls precisely in the category of books which stimulate you, and which effortlessly linger on.

The 1980s were one of the most violent decades in India. They began with Operation Blue Star, undertaken by Mrs. Gandhi's regime to crush the movement for an independent Khalistan - a sikh land. This was the decade in which Mrs. Gandhi met her end, assassinated by her Sikh body guard, and it is the very decade which saw brutal violence being unleashed on Sikhs in India, particularly those residing in Delhi, in what are remembered as Chauraasi ke Dange, or the Riots of '84. Perhaps, this also happens to be the decade in which the Hindutva bandwagon acquired steam and sowed those seeds of communalism which culminated in the Babri Masjid demolition in early 1990s. However, aside from this last vestige of the 1980s, Amandeep Sandhu's book does a brave of job of combining the earlier three - Operation Blue Star, Mrs. Gandhi's assassination and Riots of '84 - into a narrative which steers clear of transforming into a political discourse. It simply seeks to throw light on the impact of the riots, on not just life, property, family and relationships, but the very identity of the hapless people, who were forcibly made a party to political ambitions of a few.

Appu is entering the senior most year of his military school in Jassabad. He was supposed to be the school prefect, but due to some unexpected changes in school structure, his authority has been limited to being the in-charge of his class. Besides being the school prefect, he only looked forward to one thing - finding a place for himself in NDA when he passed out from his school. That is what his teachers and trainers over the years had prepared him for. However, the events of 1984 bring many unforeseen alterations in his life. He finds himself giving refuge to an ex-student, Balraj, who is now a Khalistani militant escaping the army. A school which functioned with pride and in isolation, now sees its very basic dynamics being affected by the events taking place outside. Sectarian loyalties are ignited and old pals are forced to take sides. Amandeep also paints a gruesome picture of the bullying which takes place in school - activities unspeakable, some which made my stomach churn. The intoxication of seniority in Appu's school led to an acute urge for dominating the minions - mentally, physically and sexually. Punishments, or ragra, as they are mentioned in the book, were a given and they were ruthless enough to cause bleeding, broken bones and medical centre trips.

And on this entire canvass of violence was running another, important story - a 17 year old boy's attempt to come face to face with his identity, his battle to preserve his friendships with friends from other religions amid venomous, vehement and provocative speeches made by his fellows influenced by the ideology of Khalistan. His dream lay shattered, and he moved ahead without an iota of knowledge as to where his future was located.

Amandeep's writing is sensible, as well as sensitive. In this book, he raises questions, but does not attempt to provide all answers. His narrative is lucid - it casts on the readers' minds vivid images of violence being perpetrated at the surface and subterranean levels. Appu, the narrator, is a real person - he has his questions, he has his confusions, he has his faults and he is constantly looking for answers. I think what brings Appu to life is the fact that this book is part autobiographical, part fiction. What begins as as tale of school boys battling out their own concerns and stresses goes on to become a much grander picture of the realities as they exist in a land which has conflicts at its very crux. As is aptly put on the back cover, this book 'is a frank examination of the consequences of misplaced honour, allegiance and integrity.'

It is a 4 on 5 stars book for me - and these ones come my way rarely. I can't say it was a pleasure going through this book, for this book was meant to disturb me. It did well on that count. The basic storyline of the novel is interspersed with italicized musings of the narrator, Appu. These are sections which will hit some raw part of your heart. They will echo something which you too might have deeply felt. These are, perhaps, those sections of the book which will make you as big a fan of Amandeep as I have happened to become.

Book Details -
Title - Roll  of Honour
Author - Amandeep Sandhu
Publisher - Rupa
Price - ₹ 275
Pages - 240

And finally, a fond click!
Amandeep, me and his book, at a book reading organized in Jamia Millia Islamia


  1. rollo of the honour this is my onour to comment over here...nice book..btw who is with you in this snap...both are looking priety...nice nice...keep writing..keep teaching me new stuffs..!!

    1. He is the author of this book, Amandeep Sandhu. A fine person to have met and known.