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Book review: Prelude to a Riot by Annie Zaidi

PRELUDE TO A RIOT by Annie Zaidi, Aleph Books.
 
Zaidi throws out a taut line which the reader grasps, holds on to, and never lets go till the last page is turned.
 
The book is an elegy — in prose — to communal hatred, to the damage wrought by communal hatred.
 
This is southern plantation country and the upcoming clash is between the locals, overwhelmingly belonging to one caste and community, and the outsiders, mostly labourers working the former category`s lands, and mostly belonging to that other caste and community.
 
The others are Muslims here, but of course, with their dreams and desires, their fears, desolation, all laid open to the reader. Just as is happening across the country, long-buried resentments are being fanned in the crucible, to become full-blown fires.
 
There are soliloquies from each of the main characters and there is an inevitability to these thoughts. While the reader might sympathise or not sympathise with these viewpoints, they are not so naive to not see what havoc, once actioned, such a train of thought can wreak.

Lines like  the following resonate: The air was thick with the juice of the words we had locked behind our teeth.

Conversion means someone is unhappy. If people gain freedom, happiness, anything , even money, why should they not convert?

The words (the hero) spoke onscreen would open up all the wounds of ones heart, and then sew them back.

The guru-wives were stuck with the tasks of cleaning the dung and milking the cows when their husbands were paid in cattle.

The world is a big place. If you walk long enough, youll find a place that’s not got anybody`s name on it and no fences around. There`s got to be a place for us,  too.

Everything and everyone in the story is moving to an inevitable head. The reader knows what is going to happen to the place, to the people. Because, as Zaidi says, “No big colonial sword needs to come down and slash the fabric of the nation. Muscle by muscle, atom by atom, we are being torn from within. We are our own bomb.“
Aleph BooksAnnie Zaidicommunal tensionsimpending riototheringPrelude to a Riot

Sheila Kumar • January 13, 2021


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