Book Review – A Burning by Megha Majumdar
Facebook. Even a decade ago this word would have elicited raised eyebrows as response. But thanks to the digital revolution, it has now become a household name. It is here that we keep in touch with friends and family, binge on funny videos, connect with strangers, and vent out our feelings.
Imagine, if you were sent to jail for a post on Facebook? Sounds dystopian? Well, that’s the theme of this pacy thriller penned by debutante author Megha Majumdar.
Hailed by the media in America as the next Jhumpa Lahiri, Megha Majumdar paints a world we are too familiar with. Nothing is out of the ordinary here. We come across a girl living in a slum, who works at a fashion retail shop to support her family. We become acquainted with a transgender, who aspires to become an actress. Then there is the PT teacher at a school, who wants to break free from the mundane existence.
And then, there is the society we all live in. Here, destitute citizens are pushed to the brink for ‘development’, women are forced to buy groceries in the dead of the night to save money, doctors do not feel the urgency to attend to a patient because he is from the lowest rungs of the society, a boy belonging to the lower echelons has to pay entry fee at a posh mall.
This is a society where a religious minority is killed on the suspicion of eating a particular meat, where the onus of proving innocence is on the accused, not the prosecutor, where judgments are passed to satisfy the collective conscience of the people, the media is only looking for headlines and politicians eye just the votes.
We are all familiar with this society. Then why does Megha Majumdar’s book feel dystopian? Because truth is always stranger than fiction, and we choose to believe we live in a fantasy world of ‘good days’ than face the reality. Megha hits the nail on the coffin of ‘reality’ hard, with the sharp satire and ruthless portrayal of plain happenstance.
As one reads through the pages, the sorrow-state of affairs in our la-la land becomes more and more acute. Images from the past haunt you, make you feel guilty – of being the silent majority. ‘A Burning’ is an indictment of not the government or the ‘system’. It is a document of rebuke – because we have allowed the country to descent into madness, systematically.
Jivan – the protagonist – could be any of us. It could be Sudha Bhardwaj, it could be Safoora Zargar. It could also be Afzal Guru. Or Dhananjay Chatterjee. Faces change. Contexts change. The story remains the same. We begin by empathising with Jivan, but choose to emulate PT Sir in our lives. Megha’s brilliance lies in capturing this convenience. ‘A Burning’ reminds us that we all are the ‘ghosts of the future’.
My rating: 4/5 stars