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Book Review: Bridge Across The Rivers

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A compilation of 16 short stories written by Punjabi authors whose families witnessed the Partition

Snigdha Sharma

Bridge Across The Rivers isn't a narrative of bloodshed, yet it remains an uncomfortable read. Each of these stories takes you to survivors who mourn the death of relationships they once cherished, more than the dead.

In Tahira Iqbal’s ‘One’s Own Country’, a woman tells the ghost of her daughter to leave as she recalls the sweet mangoes of Karnail Singh’s fields. Her grandson expresses disdain at her fondness for a man who belonged to the community that killed her family. She, however, reminds him that "some Singh" killed them, not Karnail.

An unintentional pattern emerges between stories. They begin with the establishment of characters and their relationships. The authors paint a picture of Punjab’s flourishing crop fields and friends frolicking through them. Then the authors reveal what religion each of them belongs to, to reason their separation. Until the news of the Partition jolts their lives, the authors don’t feel the need to reveal their religious affiliations— which shows how seamlessly these threads of society were woven before being forcefully plucked. Every story mounts the reader with some emotional luggage. There is plenty to carry around at the end.

Since the people they held close are lost beyond borders, characters rely heavily on material memory. In Baldev Singh’s ‘Come, Sister Fatima’, the narrator’s mother struggles to convince her daughters-in-law to not dispose of a spinning wheel. Her measure of loyalty to her friend Fatima lies in how well she preserves the only memory she has of her. Ahmed Salim’s ‘The Man Who Refused To Die’ is the recollection of a haunting trance. When the author claims to have forgotten 26 years of his existence, his company states, “…that's bound to happen whenever there is oppression. There exists a dark forest between the past and the present, but as one strides forward, this darkness becomes clearer”. All the characters in this book seem to be on this journey.

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