Krishna Sobti’s epic Zindaginama is an expansive and intricate novel written about Indian life during the troubled years of British imperialism. It provides a panoramic view of rural Punjab, just before it was to be partitioned by the Radcliffe Line in 1947. The novel is written episodically and eventually encompasses the entire milieu it presents. It is a reflection of pre-partitioned Punjab in its totality- with legends, lore, myths, and traditions with the ever-changing grim and darkening political scenario in the background.
The story revolves around the demure village of Shahpur, which is situated in an undivided Punjab. The money-lending Khatris remain the support system for the village-namely the wise Shahji and his generous younger brother Kashi. While the men come to the Shahji’s house to discuss politics every day, the women engage in daily routines, colourful festivities and songs. However, the Freedom movement gains momentum and the excesses of the British are slowly brought to light. Discontent and resentment gradually seep into the village, and finally engulf it, with the Ghadar movement acting as a catalyst.
The numerous songs are the essence of the book, and sometimes act as a plaintive narration. Sobti does a remarkable job of showing how the cheerful songs take on a mournful tone by the end of the book. The beauty of Sobti’s writing lies in her way of making the readers reaching for the truth and understanding it for themselves, rather than seeing only the surface. Even though ironically the partition isn’t mentioned even once, the story ends with leaving the reader imagining the once- peaceful world of Shahpur which was irreparably fractured by partition.
Author: Krishna Sobti
Publisher: Harper Perennial