Peace Has Come
By Parismita Singh
Publisher: Westland Books
Price: Rs 499
In one of the stories in Parisimita Singh’s Peace Has Come, two college friends in a village in Assam coax a friend to drive them to the border of Bhutan where one of them, R wmaii, could see Sylvia—the girl R wmaii loved, but who has been forcefully married to a militant. A lot of things could have gone wrong in a time like that, but for a long time, nothing does. It is when R wmaii and Sylvia plan to elope, that R wmaii comes alive to an insoluble quandary. Sylvia’s husband has met R wmaii’s brother and has assured him that “peace would come”, and that they would need people like R wmaii in the university to build a new nation. As the three of them struggle to understand the sudden turn of events, the narrator and Sylvia bite down on their words, choking on what was left unsaid, and remained so forever.
In the daunting time of ceasefire in Assam and the north east region of India, by the foothills of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, there is a renewed sense of optimism. Yet, the joke is on the three of them; R wmaii and Sylvia, whose love could not amble in tandem with hopes of peace and settlement, and the narrator, who had one last chance to tell Sylvia that he was ready to give up all for the love of her, but did not. The irony of the title of Singh’s book is comically stinging. Every story is defined by friends and foes who are bristling with a cocktail of indignation and mistrust. The line between truce and terror is blurred. And peace is poisoned.
Singh’s latest novel doesn’t singularly illuminate the readers with the historical context, politics and culture of the north east. Her stories are about people whose lives are irredeemably intertwined in the mesh of insurgency and its aftermath. On one hand there is a journalist, who cannot understand whether the murder story he met should be turned into a scoop; on the other, a labour contractor who cannot stop talking about the emptiness that exists beyond normal human understanding, and believes that when someone is gripped by death, there is nothing wrong if the situation is put to use. On one hand, there is a mysterious man who is seen loitering around a carefree spirit with a gun flung over his back, but uses it only to play music; on the other, people who dread he would be killed in violence on the other side every time he vanishes. On one hand there is a daring, unreticent woman who rides a bike and is the only woman in her village who works; on the other, a guarded, finicky, orthodox man who cycles her back to her home through an undeclared curfew. These people, comprising Bodos, Santhalis, Nepalis, and Muslims, are caught in an identity mold. They co-exist and live in between war and resolution, none of which is either too close, or too elusive. It’s a catch-22.
Singh’s writing is achingly evocative, and her characters, deliciously fleshed out. She doesn’t waste words on breaking down her characters; instead, she puts them in a framework—an incredibly spine-chilling, eerie narrative laced with fear and suspicion—and lets it speak for them. Singh barely sinks her teeth into the gore—the secret brutal killings and mass murders—and focuses singularly on the disorder of the human lives. In her stories, people are compelled to redefine the course of their lives, friends turn hesitant, strangers arrive and nothing is ever the same again.
At certain points, I was strikingly reminded of the philosophical fugitive and the author of Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts, simply because I felt that Singh’s writing resonated with his. Each maneuver into the future comes with its own uncertainty, and in the midst of the ethnic milieu, both writers, with the simple magic of words, make the readers think of life from a completely different perspective. The language is gorgeous and lyrical. Some of the expressions are so strong that they cut close to the bone.
“There was not a scrap of garbage to be seen anywhere, and dustbins were placed conspicuously all over the market town.
What a messy way to die in such an ordered and disciplined kingdom.”
“He saw a woman kiss her rosary and take a step back at the sight of the machine. But she did not move away. Like the journalist, a large part of the crowd seemed inclined to linger, even when there was nothing to see.”
“When someone is already gripped by death, pressed hard between its fingers, waiting for the final pinch, there is nothing wrong if the situation is put to use.”
Singh has previously written and helped conceptualise graphic novels. I haven’t read her previous works and have trouble imagining her as someone who figured a way with graphics before she had with words. Singh is a talented storyteller, and I say this because at the end of every story, she suspends the reader in a heavy void and leaves them wanting for more. The brilliance of her work lies in the lingering feeling of dissatisfaction and restlessness that she manages to instill. All stories end on an ambiguously tragic note, only ascertaining that peace is nowhere near. It has not come.