08 May, 2021

Charred Stones In Mind

A vivid story of revelatory homecoming doesn’t flinch from naming the villains of the anti-Sikh riots

Charred Stones In Mind

Helium reminds this revi­ewer of Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey. Both books are essentially fiction but based on contemporary events in India. The background of Mistry’s novel is the period when Indira Gandhi was the country’s prime minister (the writer had some unflattering things to say about her and, as a result, the film based on the book was banned in India). Jaspreet Singh’s theme is narrower—the November 1984 anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The riots thread their way all through the book, linking the main characters together. Curiously enough, both Jaspr­eet Singh and Rohinton Mistry are ethnic Indians based in Toronto, Canada.

The narrator in Helium is Raj, an academic teaching at Cornell University in the US. He is haunted by the past. While still a student in Delhi, he has lived thr­ough the horrific pogrom on the Sikhs which, as he discovers, was state-sponso­red, with leading Congress politicians—who are named—leading the rioters. His...

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