Roundabout: A novel with an insight on Bluestar
‘Operation Bluestar is what it was called. Why that and not Operation Pie in the Sky, or Operation Cow Jumps Over the Moon?’
This is a line from Kanwaljit Deol’s novel ‘The Year of the Hawks’ and there is a sense of déjà vu to those who were witness to the turbulent Punjab of the 1980s. One recalls a conversation by two men in a bus with one of them asking ‘But why do they call it Bluestar? What does it mean? Why blue?”
There is remarkable recreation of the period down to minute details and the author says, “The novel brewed in my mind for three decades. I read everything that was written on the period and kept making notes so that memory does not fail. When I retired in 1914, I started writing it and completed it in a little less than two years.”
The novel opens in Moranwale village where adolescent boys Fareed, Shera and Jeeta are in a pond, playing games and quarrelling over small things, but soon the bigger disasters engulf them. One by one they are drawn and manipulated as recruits in the violent separatist movement headed by Bhindranwale who is raising a force of radicalised young men across Punjab. The last to join them is the reluctant Fareed, who grows up in a home with a drunken father who beats his wife.
The story is told through Fareed and a Delhi journalist Sikand, born to a Sikh mother and a Hindu father. Fareed and Sikand are together in the Golden Temple at Amritsar when the tanks roll in what is to be remembered as a decisive moment in the history of Punjab with repercussions that are still not a closed chapter. Kanwaljit’s writing is characterised by a sincerity in which she tries to look at recent history with a dispassionate mind.
The writer’s disquiet is visible on happenings of the 1980s which were to follow like the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the killing of innocent Sikhs at different places in the country. “Another reason for taking time to pen the novel,” says Kanwaljit, “was that I did not want it to be an emotional outpouring. My first concern was the manipulation and goading of young boys into the terror mill. My second concern was the political use of a person like Bhindranwale without any care for the implications. It was the complete lack of vision that appalled me.”
Fareed, who survives the Operation of June 1984, sees that the only escape will be in getting a visa to the US and moving away from his past. However, when the moment comes, he has a change of heart. When all the preparation is done and it is time to buy the tickets, he tells Sikand: “I am not going to America. I have decided to return to my village.” What for? His answer to this question is: “I am going to put the green back into my land again.” Thus the narrative closes on a note of hope. One wishes it comes true for Punjab some day.
This is the debut novel by the author, though she had earlier penned a book ‘101 Tips to Survive the City’, which was concerned with her profession for she was known as a cop to have worked significantly for well-being of women. She joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) after an MSc in Physics from Panjab University, Chandigarh. She has served in Goa, Delhi and Arunachal Pradesh, among other places. She was also on deputation with the National Human Rights Commission.
Strap: Former Police officer Kanwaljit Deol looks back with anguish at what happened in those troubled times of Punjab