The tumultuous events of 1984 can, and certainly will, provide an emotionally charged setting for many a novel. But the traumatic backdrop of Bhindranwale’s rise, Operation Bluestar, Mrs Gandhi’s assassination and the horrific anti-Sikh riots is wasted on Amarjit Sidhu’s cliche-loaded No Way Home. Unable to mine these events for their human tragedy, he can only treat them as reportage. Consequently, his weak protagonist, Dave (short for Davinder) arouses no sympathy even when caught in the riots.
Sidhu’s superficial narrative follows Dave as he chases his great American dream from Chandigarh to the US. After driving on interstate highways, drifting from one friend and shared apartment to another, staring wide-eyed at such American icons as a McDonald’s or a doughnut shop, he returns home with a “sense of the newness of re-recognition,” whatever that may be. His half-hearted attempts to discover Punjabi art and literature predictably fall on their face. Then 1984 happens and he escapes to Canada. Fourteen years and many nondescript jobs later, he returns to Chandigarh, only to find that no one’s holding his breath. So of course he departs again. Unless one is a travel agent, this breathless shuttling is likely to leave one unmoved.
Someone also needs to tell Sidhu that Mrs Gandhi’s body lay in state not at her residence but at Teen Murti House, that Sikhism does not have priests but only granthis and that it can be positively dangerous to believe that “traditionally, Sikh women can have no opinion....” There is little to commend in this novel for which we must blame the generosity—or carelessness—of India’s burgeoning publishing industry.