Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Border-line syndrome

The news of Indian soldiers mutilated by the Pakistani army has set off a fresh wave of protests among the countrymen. The daughter of Head Constable of Border Security Force, Prem Sagar, wants 50 Pakistanis to be beheaded as revenge for her father’s death. A long round of Pakistan bashing and war-hate will occupy the news space for a few days to come. In the midst of this, a few peaceniks, like Tehmina Dadyseth, will try to talk about people and humanism.

Before the hate mail for Tehmina starts, here’s a disclaimer. She is the heroine of Anuja Chauhan’s Baaz, a war romance, if one can categorise it. Daughter of a retired General, Tehmina aka Tinka, doesn’t support war. Her love interest, Ishaan Faujdaar (Shaanu), is a flying officer in the Indian Air Force. Quite like ‘maverick’ (Tom Cruise in Top Gun), he believes in his duty to the nation. Until his and Tinka’s views clash and, make us, the readers, squirm.

Unlike her other books, which too had an element of conflict in the plotline, Chauhan’s Baaz is different. It captures the spirit of what is happening now. Around us. The war hyperbole, nationalism and patriotism debate is in the book, with an insight into what the armed forces think about the conflicts across the border.

Set around the 1971 Indo-Pak war (Liberation of Bangladesh), Baaz makes you yearn for love and think of the world as one.

Excerpts from conversation with the author:
When did you actually write the book? It reminded us of Gurmehar Kaur controversy and the nationalism debate which is being discussed, dissented now.
I actually put fingers to keyboard in February 2016. And finished the first draft on November 30 of the same year. Then, there was some editing feedback and consultation with a military expert. So, yes, it happened before the whole Gurmehar blow-up, but I think those concerns have been very much a part of our national debate in the last couple of years. In fact, those issues are always relevant, aren’t they? Rabindranath Tagore believed that there is something higher than the concept of National Identity and that is Humanity.

Which side of the debate are you on?
I believe very strongly in speaking softly and carrying a big stick. The defence services are our big stick — it’s important that they be absolutely battle-ready at every moment — fit, trained, highly motivated, well-armed and well-provisioned. But it’s equally important that we deal with our neighbours with kindness and mutual respect.

Did the tone write out itself? Was it going to be a love story between Indian Air Office officer and a Pakistani girl?
No, there was never any Pakistani girl! This is a book about India and Indians — the soul-searching we all go through as citizens and soldiers. The central conflict, the thing that attracted me to this setting, was the differences between the ideologies of Tinka and Shaanu. She, who has seen the havoc war can wreak (her brother is a dead fauji) is essentially a pacifist and he, a boy from a small Haryana village, totally seduced by the sexy flying machines of his dreams and can’t wait to go to war.

And, how does it feel to be back with HarperCollins after a fling with Westland?
It feels great — I loved Westland too — they have two of my books (The Zoya Factor and The House that BJ built), and also all my titles in six Indian languages. The quest is always to find a wider audience, and that again, is what has bought me back to Harper at the moment.

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