Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book: Known Turf

Few days back I had my turn with an eclectic read --'Known Turf' by Annie Zaidi.

The book on the whole had a mooring effect on me. In parts, I found it as one of those rare reads which manages to connect with the confused middle-class twenty-something youths (like me). Confused between the liberal upbringing we've received, and the larger hard-lined realities which, if ever had touched us --it was only intermittently, like reaching in waves.

Dalits in Punjab, Value system in Dacoits' lives and families, Exploring Sufism, Displacement, Identity-crisis, Weavers of Benaras and many more --Annie has covered a wide gamut of subjects in her book --and shuffling through each section unfolded a separate shimmy world in itself for me; petal by petal to a bloom. 

I liked the way she talks about the life and times of Dacoits using Bollywood's Sholay, Dushman etc as point of reference, and especially parts which come out as personal memoirs...such as the place where she felt queasy while calling the 'legendary' dacoits such as Raghuveer Singh Gussi or Lokman Dixit (Lakku Daaku) --the ruthless murderers in their hey days --as 'Baba', while meeting them in person. This was amusing and unique. Through the reportage I got to learn about Bandits and Dacoits sans their comic aroma, that is in a way I or most of the current growing generation hadn't read before.

I loved reading about Sufism and Sufi shrines, especially at places where Annie gets Sufi defined as "anyone who stood against caste, and stood for humanity, could be called Sufi", or where someone tells her: "Sufism offered us an alternative reality of Punjab, one which is not talked about..."

I also loved the tender descriptions Annie presents of cities like Allahabad and Patna. There's an unindulgent delight that comes while reading miniature details of life at places you've yourself grown up. And one advantage of having grown up in a small town is that you remain aware how impersonal a larger monster of a city would always be. 

While reading about the rickshaws in Bihar that the author describes about with good charm and amusement, I was reminded of the scene from the movie Haasil (set in UP, India) --where the gorgeous heroine is riding at a vulnerable place in a rickshaw, a loud goudy rickshaw full of bling and baubles and tassels, and she feels so embarrassed from the shrill and, sort of jolly jingling caused by the decorations, that finally she grows too self-conscious and reprimands the rickshaw-puller:

"Itti saari ghantiya lagaane ki kya jarurat thi, lagtaa hai dashahre ki jhaaki jaa rahi hai..."
(What's the fucking need of putting so much bling around, seems like I'm the  joker of a festive procession)

-To which the rickshaw-puller replies, in a typical crude insouciant (Bihari) style:
"Arre! Rickshaw jawan hai, sajayenge nahi to rooth naahi jaayegi. Aaein..."
(Whoa! My Rickshaw darling is young, if I don't adorn her, won't she be furious? You hear?)

Besides, I also liked the shriveled-up train journey descriptions (having experienced similar fate), and Annie's unselfconscious search for identity, and her quest for defining 'home', as accurately as possible; such a conny little word it is. 
Her stories stand as worthy cultural mouthpieces of the times, with a capital bit of warmth and humor.
And her writing did to me what any sincere piece of writing does; it refreshed my sense of the world around.

Way To Go.

PS: Great that I managed to meet Annie at the book lunch and get a Signed Copy :)

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