Harinder Sikka’s Exploration of Tender Love Beneath Tough Exteriors

Book: Vichhoda

Author: Harinder Sikka

There is a life beyond sorrow and pain where you’re in complete control of your fate. You understand how life takes unexpected turns and the only way to deal with it is to keep marching forward.

Bibi Amrit Kaur, a Sikh married to a Muslim, is one such character in Harinder Sikka’s latest novel Vichhoda (pain of separation), who has to accept the surreal developments around her in order to survive. She is much more than just a wife remembering her husband, or a mother longing for her children. She is a symbol of hope and how a life can be rebuilt over the ruins.

Sikka, whose previous novel Calling Sehmat (inspiration for Bollywood film Raazi) also dealt with a somewhat similar theme, has delved deeper this time. While Calling Sehmat was more about the nationalistic sentiments and how it overpowered, and in a way, guided incidents in Sehmat’s life, Vichhoda is an inward journey. It’s about a person struggling to make sense of her life’s contrasts.

Sikka’s vivid imagery takes us to the pre-Indian independence and partition period with fast unfolding psychological horrors. These killers were gentle neighbours a few days back and now baying for each other’s blood. Was the hatred always there, or it’s just a passing phase?

The author hesitates to directly comment on the sudden transformation of collective conscience but lists a chronology of events leading up to one of the worst catastrophes of the human history. He leads us to think in a subtle yet penetrating tone. Actually, you need to give it to Sikka that he, without being flowery, narrates this story like a folklore. You wouldn’t quickly gauge how much of it could have happened exactly the same way.

For example, the opening act, because it’s more like a film, has some amazing crests and troughs. If a Sikh family is under attack, so is a Muslim family which is a part of perpetrators. Nature, indeed, puts forth amazing ploys.

Vichhoda moves through the bylanes of Kashmir and reaches corruption-ridden small towns of Pakistan to seek humanity in the most unexpected places, like a police station. The central storyline has been branched out in many ways to maintain a constant supply of anecdotes and karma-related plots. Sikka’s belief in divine interventions appears pretty firm, even if it comes as the cost of sounding a bit outdated.

It’s highly effective though. Some episodes in the book would seem like much repeated scenes from various films on Indo-Pak partition but they’re amazingly impactful. It’s hard to not get swept away with emotions.

Such is the emotional depth of Vichhoda that one can’t help but pray for the weak to emerge triumphant. Despite regular and much seen characters, Vichhoda’s Amrit Kaur is likely to remain with the readers for long. It’s an easy breezy read with a fine emotional balance.

Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha

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