Friday, May 23, 2014

#BookReview : Che in Paona Bazaar by Kishalay Bhattacharjee

On the jacket:

North-East India is not an ‘imagined community’, separated from the politics and policies that govern the rest of the country. It is as real as the violence that has torn the land apart, leaving its people grappling for a semblance of normalcy, if nothing else. The north-east isn’t just a hotbed for insurgency and deadly casual encounters, a stop-over on every international rock band’s schedule, or where used syringes lie waiting in dark alleys. There are other realities as well— of forbidden love, weddings, fascinating cuisines, childhood memories and other 'unimportant stories' that never made it to our newspapers and television screens.  In spite of gaining exclusive access to the region, former Resident Editor (NDTV, north-east), Kishalay Bhattacharjee struggled to broadcast stories of these multitudes. Years in the media have taught him that not all revolutions will be televised. Che in Paona Bazaar finds Bhattacharjee deep in the heart of Manipur, demystifying a state that was once just a source of ‘news’ for him. He delves into public memory, digging up collective histories to bring to life a people forgotten by their fellow-countrymen, of women hardened by constant hardship and of a youth struggling to merge their multiple identities. These tales are the result of a long and unflinching look into Manipur’s past and present – a land rich in tradition, culture and violence – and of a people who stage their own daily rebellion by living and thriving against all odds.


There are three reasons why I picked this book to read. First, of course the author. Having grown up hearing him report news, he was always an enigma. Secondly, I firmly believe that if a book is written by a journalist, it has to be read for the sheer experience of precise, to the point language, authentic information and good language. I haven't been proven wrong in this belief, so far. And lastly, north east India. Being from the eat, with very sparse roots which crawl in to north east India, I have been very curious about the seven states, since as long as I can remember. Visiting is on the charts, but reading about the culture, the people, the atrocities faced, the food etc is anyday more interesting.

In Che in Paona Bazaar, Bhattacharjee has spoken about his times in the north east states of India, which he spent as a reporter. So what he had to say was very in depth yet of the grass root level. This book talks mostly about Manipur - their food, music, clothes, militants, student agitations - one actually gets a look into Manipur through the author's eyes.. 
The narration is the book, stole my heart. Instead of making it sound like a documentary, Bhattacharjee narrated it in the words of an imaginary character Eshei. A character, carefully created, Eshei talks about growing up in a dysfunctional society, love, aspirations, expectations, violence etc. From learning how and why Manipur has a strong Korean influence, to learning about the tribes, to how the Army is over there, their clothes - basically, learning how and what the Manipur and it's people are. The title chapter explained how Paona Bazaar got it's name. Reading about trade in this region was particularly interesting.

Everything is fascinating, but what is gnawing in my mind is - how difficult and uncertain life can be. Living bang in the center of India, where no one can bother my existence, it wasn't pleasant to read how constantly lives are interfered with. I have always believed I am a liberal. But since the time I finished reading this book, I am realising the stereotypes I have deep seeded in my mind.

I seriously feel all of us should read this book, every Indian should. It's time we know more about our countrymen and start accepting everyone as one. Because life isn't easy everywhere.

Rating: *****/5

[This review is for Pan Macmillan India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

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