Three Rivers of Tears is a story, set in the context of three nations which splintered out of colonial India – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – where people were brutally torn asunder and the embers continue to simmer to this day.
This book is written by Lopa, a post-graduate in physics from IIT Kanpur. She has many short stories, essays and poems to her credit and has scripted and produced a few documentary films.The work is a product of some pertinent questions – Why are borders between so many countries a zone of uncertainty, torn by open conflict or surviving on a precarious peace? Even when commonalities stare us in the face why do we focus on differences? Tradition, lifestyle, history, language – all the diversities that enrich our spirit – why do we use them as weapons of mistrust?
1970’s Calcutta – A young urban educated woman, Binapani, brimming with romantic ideologies infused by Russian novels, gets sucked into a communist revolution to be rudely awakened to the practical realities of the uprising which started in Naxalbari.
1971, East Pakistan – A child Partha,named ‘Rahim’ through a stroke of fate, was born to a young Hindu woman, Madhumati amidst burning cities and villages which had become Hindu graveyards.Madhumati with her husband Sulaiman Ali and son, then begins the arduous journey of escape to India and establishing a new life for themselves.
Around the same time, Tariq, a young boy from Pakistan, whose parents emigrate to India in search of a better life, sees the wonder of Taj Mahal for the first time.
A brief tryst with communism alters Binapani’s destiny forever and as her life progresses on a different tangent, Binapani’s story gets enmeshed with several other characters. To her is born, a free-thinking and avant-garde daughter, Panchali.As Panchali grows older, she feels passionately for the people of the three countries, bound by a shared cultural heritage yet distanced by political interests.As her life traverses and crosses the path of Tariq, Rahim and various other characters impacted by the partition, she questions the need for continued division in the minds and hearts of people and seeks to perform the ultimate sacrifice for the unification of the three countries.
This is a book on historical fiction that traces various historical events and happenings from 1970 till 2007 through a simplistic style of narration. Along with history, the book is richly interspersed with mythological references, culture and traditions of India. The book is divided into 6 parts and Part 1 of the book, which deals with Binapani getting sucked into a communist rebellion, is the most promising. The rich background context, in this part, can lend itself to a whole book.
From Part 2 onwards, the book meanders and branches off into too many characters, many of whom are of no consequence. This profusion of people, most of who do not warrant sufficient depth or mind space, creates unnecessary distractions.
The history,in various places, is narrated in a question and answer form and seems contrived to educate the reader.Introduction of some characters has been done purely to ask a leading question which is then answered in detail by another.
“Where is Brindavan?”
“Brindavan is on the banks of River Yamuna, in northern India….”
“Anand, tell them the Mahabharata” requested Binapani.
And four pages of abridged Mahabharata follow.
There are some instances, where the occurrences are narrated by the author as a commentary and also carry the author’s opinions on the political scenario at that time.
“What India needed most at this juncture was internal stability.The Iron Lady,Indira Gandhi, who had proved her mettle in the Bangladesh war, put a strong government back on its feet.”
The narration on several instances, verges on the yawningly text bookish. The history, ideally should have been woven into the story unobtrusively, without being obviously focused on as an academic discourse and should have made a sufficiently strong impact on the reader to want to search and read up the historical facts.
Many ubiquitous items, which would be obvious to an Indian, is explained in detail which further lends credence to an assumption that it is aimed towards a non-Indian audience.Explanation of Sari, Duppatta,Golgappa,Amchi-Mumbai, Hindi film songs are not something an average Indian is going to be enthused about.
Though ideologically sending a strong message, the depth of the characters demanded to be portrayed for roles like these, seemed shallow in comparison.Even the protagonist’s character and her goal don’t resonate much owing to the lack of a sound bedrock of convictions shaped through interactions, introspection and reasoning. The conversations which aim to remove the communal disconnect and illustrate the commonality across religions seem too simplistic and unimaginative.
Taking cognizance of just the history chronicled during the period mentioned, it does a commendable job of mentioning almost every political incident worth mentioning. Stories from the epics also create an interesting diversion with the names of a lot of key characters derived from them, though the passages can drag for readers who are already cognizant of them.
Do pick up the book, if you would like to know more about the Indian mythology and culture interspersed with a story weaving in and out. But if you already are aware of all these, then I am afraid that it would verge on the blase.
Author – Lopa
Publisher – Lifi Publications
Pages – 492
Price – Rs.325