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Through a Maze of Relationships


Preeti Gill

SIKANDAR CHOWK PARK
By Neelum Saran Gaur
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2005, pp. 286, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

"For me, that day in late March, it began with the ringing of my mobile phone and Deb’s voice: Siddhantha, there’s this blast in Sikander Chowk Park. I want you to rush down and cover it. Immediately.”   And so since there is no arguing with that Siddhantha does the story which he says wasn’t exactly a scoop. It was in fact a scrap of news so trivial that the desensitized eye quickly glosses over it in its insignificant corner of the local page, “a mere quarter column”. 22 March. A powerful bomb blast occurred at Sikander Chowk Park in the heart of Sikandar Bagh market in which 57 people were killed and 115 seriously injured . Of these there were 11 who were completely pulped and whose names went missing in the first casualty lists. Until the scraps that remained were DNAed and out of the random mashed mess there sprang personalities, lives, stories—of pain, of love, of betrayal, of dreams and ambitions, of petty jealousies and forgiveness. But none of which were allowed to come to any fruition. And so this is a book about eleven people and a country and of a twelfth one, Siddhantha who carried these 11 people in his head for three years researching into their lives, intuiting what he could not prove and thus creating a believable reality of lived lives.   Among them is a gentle professor, Professor Mathur, teaching English and History, writing monographs, giving radio talks and trying heroically to keep track of the English spoken by his students, the changing language that grates on our ears each morning as we listen to Radio Mirchi or Red FM. Then there is the eccentric old, self effacing music teacher, Master Hargopal Mishra who occupied a small rented room frugally furnished whose most valuable possession is a seventeenth century Stradivarius. He carries three packets of Parle G biscuits in his sherwani pocket for the stray animals he meets, he feeds the dogs, an old bull that lives in his slushy lane, a pig and various goats that he sees being taken to the slaughter house. There is the Anglo Indian widow, Lynette Shepherd whose life in the big railway bungalows had gone, the vast lawns, the flowering gardens, the orchards but what remained was her habit of drinking her mid-morning coffee under the spreading boughs of welcoming trees and this is what drew her to Sikander ...


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