God Is A River is a story of men suspended in suffering and of men elevated by faith and religion. It's the story of a three-year old girl, her journey into faith, her love for god and her death by religion. Author Mona Verma talks to Hindustan Times about her book, faith and inspiration.
Giving us a synopsis of her new book Mona Verma took us back to the colonial India at the turn of 20th century, which is the setting of her novel. The story centers on the 1947 partition, the British tyranny and Indian fundamentalism, but the author narrates these events not from a historian's perspective but from the outlook of a common man on the ground, she offers the reader a rare chance to experience the violence, betrayal and tyranny from the eyes of a young child. She portrays the innocence of the child who is perplexed by the idea of men of god killing each other in the name of god, who fail to understand how being a Muslim makes one different from being a Hindu, and at the same time illustrating the wisdom of tolerance, patience and acceptance a child not corrupted by society possesses.
The childhood tales of pre -independent India and partition told to Verma, first intrigued her and later inspired her to write around this subject. The horror stories of the artificial divide, the stories of a friend killing friend, the genocidal riots, the run for survival, the trains full of dead bodies were permanently engrained in her psyche, she shared that while other children were reading Enid Blyton she was engrossed in the stories of India's past.
When asked as to why she concentrated on human suffering as opposed to human joy, she explained that she writes about pain and sorrow because they are indeed the most universal emotions, which every man has gone through whether he has experienced success and happiness or not. She said that man can relate with other man's hardships more than other man's joy. She further adds that although her books have a somewhat sad premise, she does not leave out human goodness from her stories, which itself gives one hope for future happiness and joy.
In order to illustrate the contradiction between faith and religion, with a spiritual reverence to god, self and others on one side and religious fanaticism on the other, the author introduced us to Noor, the three year old Muslim girl whose mother, because of her inability to speak, can't satisfy her curiosity about the world and can't answer her question about God or religion. This little girl believes God to be a river, as told to her by a Sufi saint, innocent and non suspecting, she doesn't realise that this very notion would lead to her demise, she gets slaughtered by Muslims as they think she is referring to river Ganges and also by Hindus who knew she came from a Muslim household. Such was her fate, she was slaughtered in the name of religion, in her quest to find God.
Through her book Verma wants to give her readers an insight into loss and sadness and pain that one experiences on separation of loved ones. She shows how during World War I, men were hoarded off to strange lands in exchange of the promise of independence, what happened to those who were left behind when these men never returned, what happened to those who lost loved ones in the Jalia Wala Bagh incident, and along with this she wants the readers to believe in their destiny and not loose faith, she wants them to trust the plan God has for them and for all of us .
Sharing her thoughts on young people and their alienation from religion she says that she doesn't think that youth has given up on God and faith. She believes that India today is seeing a spiritual revolution, where the focus is not on worshiping the photo of a Goddess, but on the other things that are so connected to the idea of self-discovery and peace, such as yoga meditation. She said that everything from smiling at someone to helping an old lady cross the road is an act springing from religion. In fact, anything that makes people happy for even a fraction of a nanosecond is religious, she adds.