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Books

Roop Dhillon's New Novel, "O"

A Book Review by RAJINDER BACHU

 

 

 

Roop Singh Dhillon is a rare thing.

I have read and reviewed his work before, and have to admit I was not impressed until I read The Hornet (Bharind) a couple of years ago.

I then became interested in him because his Punjabi was quirky, anglicised and strange. Since then I have learnt he is only reflecting the way he talks, the way all those like him do.

Born and raised in the West, Punjabi was never his first language. When he uses it, he uses it like all diaspora-born Punjabis … mixing of English Idiom and syntax (I guess those who live on mainland Europe must do the same with the local European languages), thus making the resultant Punjabi unfathomable at times for the native Punjabi.

The accent is often made fun of in Punjab. But it is the true dialect of that species, the western-born Punjabi who, despite it being his second language, perseveres.

Roop has persevered but not in the usual domain of the diasporic Punjabi: music. He has attempted again to risk writing in his second language. And as long as the reader is fully aware of this, we should ‘forgive’ him his departures from the traditional and historical use of the language. 

That, however, is all you will find to fault. If you focus too much on whether the Punjabi syntax and grammar is always ‘right‘, you will miss the story, which at the end of the day is the point in fiction.

Besides I haven’t met two Punjabis who concur on spellings and sentence structure yet, within the newly evolving genre.

So I again pushed on through and was more than pleasantly surprised. In my review of Bharind, I had hinted that he had shown me his work in progress and I was impressed at how his Punjabi had improved …

Well, now I have read the whole thing. And his new book called "O" (as in oorrah, the first letter in the Gurmukhi alphabet).

It is an unusual book as far as Punjabi goes. You will not find one like it anywhere. He has used every technique he has picked up from reading both Punjabi and English language books. It shows.

"O" is a triumphant reinvention of Punjabi prose filtered through the prism style of 21st century English writing, but still very Punjabi.

Should I say ‘Diasporic’ Punjabi? He has literally invented a new genre again. This time he labels it Vichitarvaad. It is a gothic novel, in which he skilfully explores the attitudes towards women in Punjabi society; God, caste and the damage hindification and anglicization is doing to Punjabi as a language and culture. He also examines the drug culture in Punjab and historical events such as the Annexation of Punjab by the British, the Partition of Punjab, and 1984.

In this context it is the first Great Punjabi Novel.

The specific story is about a man called Onkar (thus the letter O for the title) who has been cursed to live forever and take the form of a large tiger during the day, killing for survival. He is a type of Dracula/ werecat creature that has lived for so long that he has accumulated lots of money, but has failed to find love.

The story begins with him purchasing an innocent girl, Seema, from her money-greedy father, who is son-obsessed, and not happy he has three daughters.

The story then follows Onkar and Seema across India as she gets to know this fearsome stranger. On the way they debate often about the big issues mentioned above, often taking opposing views. This is how we discover his past (he has lived through 1947 and 1984 and has strong opinions about both
of them) and see how he became cursed.

Seema does not take to him, so it looks like he may never discover love. Or will he? This main story is cleverly interwoven with sub plots involving dacoits (outlaws) on the run, corrupt police who are hardly going to protect women as they are themselves hell-bent on gang rape (an apt subject, considering recent events in Delhi) and poachers who hunt the tiger, Shaitan, for its fur and bones.

Shaitan and Onkar are, of course, one and the same.

The men who hunt him are led by a ruthless killer, Haan Ku. And in his pursuit, as part of the Tiger Force Rangers, will they capture the poachers before they kill Onkar?

That is pretty much the plot.

But don’t worry, I have not given too much away, as the fun is in the journey.

And what a journey. Roop uses many techniques to enthral the reader. In some places the novel is written as a play, others as a poem. Occasionally the narrator speaks to you. Often the story reverts to stream of consciousness and frequently we get the tiger’s viewpoint in the first person. It makes for an interesting construction.

The book is currently unavailable in India, as I understand the author’s negative experiences when publishing there in the past have left him disillusioned. For that reason he has opted to use Blurb, which makes it very much affordable to western readers, but unfortunately out of reach of the majority of Punjabi readers. I hope someone in India invests in the book, as this needs to be released there and is, frankly, good enough to be on a college curriculum if not that of a university.

There is so much in the book to debate. It is not an easy read and like “Ulysses“, forces you to reread the sentences to fathom their meaning. At places no periods are used, making the reader intentionally breathless. The book needs to be studied.

The Blurb option is expensive, as one can only purchase two versions. A black and white softback for $25 or the color version for $56. Both make it the most expensive Punjabi book since Amarjit Singh Chandan’s book “Painti“.

Roop’s book is beautifully colour-illustrated: there are drawings by his skilled 10-year-old son, Jeevan.

The book can be purchased by clicking either HERE or HERE.

 

February 21, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Gurinder  (London, United Kingdom), February 22, 2013, 3:20 AM.

Being a huge fan of the book 'Life Of Pi', I enjoy fictional stories that have interwoven tales. I look forward to reading 'O', and exploring the hidden tale. And finally, I admire the author for including pictures drawn by his son. What a completely selfless and original idea!

2: Roop Dhillon (Reigate, United Kingdom), February 22, 2013, 5:00 AM.

Wow ... Thanks for this article. There is just one error on Raj's part. She gave the wrong link to the cheapest softback version. This is the correct link to the cheaper one - http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/4091913-softback

3: Kuldeep (Crawley, United Kingdom), February 27, 2013, 7:31 AM.

My copy arrived yesterday by FedEx. I have already read the first few chapters. It is your best work yet, Roop ji! Skimming through it, it seems to be about the treatment of women and 1984 pogroms, mixed with an Indian take on the Wolfman! Can't wait to go through it to the very last page.

4: Rana Bolla (Midlands, United Kingdom), March 04, 2013, 10:18 AM.

Have noticed that this week the book has had a 20% discount placed on it by Blurb due to Book Day in the UK.

5: Ninder Singh (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), March 21, 2013, 6:22 AM.

My copy arrived today ... superb! Never seen a Punjabi book of this quality before.

6: Amar Bolla (Derby, United Kingdom), March 14, 2015, 2:35 AM.

Book is now available in India. http://www.unistarbooks.com/fiction/4224-o.html

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