The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984, is a historical fiction novel based on the 1984 Sikh riots that took place in India after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards. The story takes place in Delhi, the centre of the riots, and follows the lives of two families who are unwittingly drawn into and deeply affected by the event, turning their lives in directions they could never have imagined.
Most non-fiction books on the subject capture stories from the worst affected areas in Delhi – Trilokpuri, Kalyanpuri, Sultanpuri, Seemapuri, Nangloi. In The Assassinations, Vikram Kapur brings the most prime and affluent localities of New Delhi into focus, portraying the immense vulnerability of even those who thought they were, or tried to remain, distant from the worst of the violence in East Delhi and the events that led up to it. The author has weaved key historical facts and events well into the narrative, creating a synchronism in how our story develops and how the characters blend into these events. There is one particular moment in the plot that took me by surprise and is extremely tragic, but it also binds the events happening in Delhi around that time very well.
I enjoyed this book for its simple and fluid expression, and because the story is completely believable and relatable. The characterisations are well done, their emotions and inner turmoils well conveyed. It is not difficult to sympathise with how they feel and why they feel so. I also really enjoyed the descriptive depiction of the Delhi of 1984; it really added to the feel of the period this book covers. There are other small details that add to the picture the author is trying to create in the reader’s mind about how bad the atmosphere in the country had become during that time. For example, there is a passage that describes how a short feature on national integration on television had been modified to include a Sikh boy, though in the past it had only been a Hindu boy and Muslim boy. To me, this was a really interesting insight.
This is a heartbreaking story of what 1984 did to 8 people, amongst thousands, what they gained and what they lost – and what this one haunting story represents of the pain, loss and tragedy that so many continue to live with even today.
City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by William Dalrymple
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What an absolutely enchanting introduction to Delhi – the city I have spent close to 6 years in and I now know of the layers of history that lie silently, waiting to be rediscovered and revisited.
The book comes to me at a time when I couldn’t have appreciated it more. Also a chance to see most of it come alive as I explore the ruins, relics and realms that it has to offer.
Even though the book was written 20 years ago – a lot from it remains relevant and thankfully existent to this day.
So many facts, places and events that one had not even heard of came to light – many of them important in shaping the future of the Delhis that came and went.
Spanning across ancient Delhi, medieval Delhi, to Mughal Delhi, British Delhi and Modern Delhi – the book is a mysterious delight of intertwining stories, instances and explorations – that made me feel like I was there with Mr Dalrymple listening to all the people who shared its secrets and forgotten tales. Though it is the unsystematic storytelling that makes the book such a great read.
Why aren’t history books written like this?? I would certainly have taken up being a historian as a profession.
Lucky to be living in the “google” age – I left nothing that could be encountered, experienced or visited virtually.
I know that I will look at Delhi in a different light after this book and it will always have a certain something that needs to be explored. The explorations are already underway 🙂
A must read for anyone who has lived here and everyone who hasn’t!
Update: Two weeks after I had finished reading the book, I happened to take on a photography assignment for a travel company. They wanted me to cover Delhi and take pictures of places that were historically significant / interesting but not the usual tourist spots. When I saw the list of sites they wanted covered I couldn’t believe my luck. Almost every site on the list was something I had read about in the City Of Djinns.
From the Mutiny Memorial in the ridge area to St. James Church in Kashmere Gate to the Ashoka Pillar in Feroz Shah Kotla and Bahadur Shah Zafar’s abandoned ‘haveli’ in Mehrauli… visiting these sites in person filled me with awe and wonder, I don’t think I would have had a better chance to re-experience the history I read in the book.
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