Exploring Darkness of the Human Heart: Book Review by ROSALIA SCALIA
Amandeep Singh Sandhu's Roll of Honour
ROLL OF HONOUR, by Amandeep Singh Sandhu, Rupa, New Delhi, 2012. Paperback, pp 237, Rs. 275.00.
Sikh-Indian novelist Amandeep Singh Sandhu makes tackling difficult subjects look easy.
In his first book, Sepia Leaves, he wrestles with the taboos swirling around serious mental illness: talking about and living with it as the child of a schizophrenic mother.
In his second, newly-released novel, Roll of Honour, Amandeep confronts social and political dissonance that give rise to political battles over power and control.
But his examination comes through the prism of school-age boys at a Punjabi military boarding school in 1984 -- the year of Operation Blue Star, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Sikh Holocaust, and the beginnings of the decade-long oppression of India's Sikhs, tens of thousands of them disappearing in fake police 'encounters'.
Because the school boys represent a microcosm of India’s religious and ethnic groups, Amandeep’s protagonist, Appu, a Sikh boy, struggles with divided loyalties.
On the surface, the novel explores a loss of innocence as the members of Appu’s fragmented senior class adjust to the structural changes to the student body, precipitated by a terrible fight between the senior and junior class that punctuated the end of the previous school year. The structural change strips the senior class of their power over the current junior class, and Appu, who expected to be the school prefect, suffers bitterness about this change, unaware this particular school year would mark them all for life.
Appu’s classmates divide into cliques that vie for power and control and in the process, visit increasing cruelties upon each other.
Roll of Honour echoes William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Both books explore human conflict and in both, boys are forced into making adult decisions though not mature enough to make them, and thus, fail each other. The difference is that Amandeep’s characters -- seemingly abandoned by their teachers and counselors -- function in social isolation, battling for power and control against the backdrop of social and political upheavals caused by adults battling over Punjabi resources and political authority.
But the adults hide their battles behind the skirts of religion.
Thus the cruelties that the boys visit upon each other inside their school world reflect and parallel the cruelties adults foist on each other, specifically on the Sikhs.
The character of an old Hindu grandfather -- Daarji -- attempts to provide an apologia for the larger conflicts waged by adults, by trying to explain them away as being caused by “poverty” of the perpetrators, as opposed to the affluence of the Sikhs.
In Roll of Honour, Amandeep examines a loss of innocence, what it means to be civilized, and the role of religion, power and control and what it means to make different choices than what is expected or encouraged.
At 237 pages and published by Rupa, one of India’s largest and most prestigious publishers, Roll of Honour is a brave book, thrusting Amandeep to the forefront of the country's literary scene, writing about a Sikh boy attempting to understand himself as the world around him grows unsafe and more mad with every passing day.
Amandeep Sandhu ranks among the country's literary pioneers, writing about this crucial chapter of its modern history that remains an open bleeding wound, despite 28 years that have passed since the Holocaust and the decade-long oppression of Sikhs that followed.
Anyone seeking to understand the human condition would want to read this book since Amandeep demonstrates both the darkness and the light that coexist within the human heart.
Roll of Honour can be purchased online by CLICKING here.
To read an interview of the author, Amandeep Singh Sandhu, please CLICK here.
October 19, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), October 19, 2012, 1:20 PM.
This was a fight for the throne of India.