Vikram Kapur Revisits Delhi’s Darkest Hour – The Anti-Sikh Riots of 1984

Why do you write so much on Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 and the anti-Sikh riots it spawned? I am often asked. At times the question is accompanied by the admonishment: What can such writing do, except open old wounds?

After all, more than three decades have passed since 1984 and, in that period, the country has had a Sikh Prime Minister. Moreover, Punjab is peaceful. So, why don’t you move on like everyone else? Over the years, I have put the same question to myself. I am not a Sikh. No one I knew was ever targeted in those riots, where two thousand seven hundred and thirty-three Sikh men, women and children were butchered in three days according to official estimates. The murderous mob never came close to my home in South Delhi. All I saw of the actual devastation was a burnt vehicle and a razed gurudwara awaiting kar seva. Yet it is in the midst of that madness that I have found a groundswell of creative inspiration.

Writers do not choose their material. Their material chooses them.

For a long time, that was how I explained the anomaly to myself. But, after completing my latest novel The Assassinations, I am inclined to think differently. As I look back on the events of 1984, I can see that they impacted me deeply to become as much a part of myself as my DNA. Until then, I was your typical army brat, gung ho about the idea of India and its secular ethos enshrined in our constitution. 1984 proved how fragile India’s secular façade is, how easily it can crack to let loose the hatred churning underneath. The Hindu and Sikh communities had a history of amity going back several centuries. Yet it did not take long for that to give way to distrust and apprehension.

I distinctly remember one episode that played out about a month after the 1984 riots subsided. A Sikh friend visited me at home. After he was gone, our chowkidar, an ex-army man from Haryana, came up to me with this word of advice, ‘These days you should keep your distance from Sikhs, baba. They are no longer good people.” Those words brought home the extent to which the world can change in a few days. I had known my Sikh friend for years. We sat next to each other in school. Yet now a wall that we had no role in constructing had sprung up between us. I guess that is where The Assassinations began.

Shaping the stories on 1984

I published an edited anthology as well as a fair amount of short fiction and nonfiction on the events of 1984. Those events also formed the dramatic high point of my first foray into long fiction, a diasporic novel called Time Is a Fire. I actually thought I had said what I had to say on the subject when the idea of exploring how something like 1984 would affect the lives of ordinary people occurred to me. Much had already been written about the politics underpinning the events, the fact that the riot victims have still not got justice… The devastation wrought by the riots is also well-documented. There seemed no point in adding to that. But the prospect of exploring how history can distort ordinary lives was exciting. And fiction seemed the best way to do it. American writer Stephen Crane said that his reason for writing the Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage was to give faces to history, the kind that cannot be found in history books. It was something similar that motivated me to write The Assassinations.

About the book: The Assassinations

The Assassinations tells the story of two Delhi families, one Sikh and the other Hindu, and how their lives go haywire thanks to the events of 1984. In it I have tried to bring to life the New Delhi of the 1980s. I have also endeavoured to capture the turbulence of the times, while chronicling how continuing to live means coming to terms with various kinds of deaths. 1984 is not the past for my characters. It continues to shape their present.

The Assassinations was launched at the ILF Samanvay Fest in November.

About the author:

Vikram Kapur’s new novel is The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984. He has published two other novels, Time Is a Fire and The Wages of Life, as well as an edited anthology of short fiction and nonfiction called 1984: In Memory and Imagination. His short fiction and nonfiction have been published widely in India and abroad. His short stories have been shortlisted for major international prizes including, among others, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Connect with him on : Website

Author(s): Vikram Kapur
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publication
Release: November 2017
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary
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