Read Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? Online
Authors: Anita Rau Badami
CAN YOU HEAR THE
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ONTARIO LIBRARY ASSOCIATION’S EVERGREEN AWARD
“Anita Rau Badami is a writer able to transport readers to another world. And it is a world the reader leaves, with reluctance, when her story ends. … Badami’s reading of immigrant experience is riveting. … A book chock full of intriguing detail.”
The London Free Press
“Badami’s feeling for place is matched, if not surpassed, by her ability to create characters that move off the page and into your mind. [Her] richly textured narrative captivates the reader as it delineates with tenderness and wisdom the stories of individuals and of nations.”
“[Badami’s] approach to this volatile subject [the Air India bombing] is broad in scope, carefully measured, under a keen, yet compassionate eye. … [She] offers no solutions, only a modest hope for reconciliation, within a richly detailed book peopled with appealing characters.”
“There are scenes in this novel as harrowing as anything in recent fiction, Canadian or otherwise. … [It] is equally rich in the complex joy of struggles and the possibility for tension, misunder standing and, sometimes, violence.”
“The deeper, sad truth about the book is that it is not just a story about Sikhs in Canada and India. … It’s a book, in essence, about home-grown terrorism wherever it is found … the publication of Badami’s novel has become more timely than ever.”
ALSO BY ANITA RAU BADAMI
The Hero’s Walk
IN MEMORY OF THE MAN ON THE BRIDGE IN
MODINAGAR AND THE VICTIMS OF
AIR INDIA FLIGHT 182.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
—Agha Shahid Ali, “Farewell”
“We went to him and said, ‘What’s this you’ve done? You’ve had all our men killed. You were known to us.’”
—Nanki Bai’s testimony, from
The Delhi Riots: Three Days in the Life of a Nation,
Uma Chakravarti and Nandita Haksar
“In one of the worst acts of aviation terrorism, Air-India’s Boeing 747,
on its way from Toronto to India via London, was blown up off the Irish coast on June 23, 1985, killing all the 329 people on board.”
ears before she stole her sister Kanwar’s fate and sailed across the world from India to Canada, before she became Bibi-ji, she was Sharanjeet Kaur. Her memories began from the time she was a six-year-old living in a village called Panjaur, a dot in that landscape of villages scattered across the fertile plains of West Punjab, alike in their annual yearning for the monsoon rains and a bountiful harvest. The house in which Bibi-ji, or Sharan as her family called her then, lived with her parents and Kanwar was as unassuming as its surroundings. One of a small cluster of Sikh and Hindu houses, it was separated from the Muslim homes by fields of swaying sugar cane. Built of mud and thatch, it was much smaller than the one made
of brick and mortar farther down the dusty gulley. That house belonged to Sharan’s best friend, Jeeti, and never failed to create a tumultuous envy in her childish heart. Though she was fond of Jeeti, Sharan resented her for having so much—a brick house, servants who did the housework, fine clothes and a father who did not lie inert on a cot all day while his wife and daughters slaved away. But the thing she envied most of all was Jeeti’s supply of lavender soap, sent by Sher Singh, her father, all the way from Canada.
Years later, when she possessed enough money to build a house out of soap if she so desired, Sharan could barely recall Jeeti’s face or her elaborate home. And since, after Partition, Panjaur itself disappeared into that grey zone between India and Pakistan where floodlights threw every detail into stark contrast, barbed wire bristled and soldiers kept watch year-round, she could not even return to the place of her origins, a necessary thing if memory is to be kept fully alive. Yet some of those days remained in her mind, sharp and clear as shards of glass.
The first of these was the day her father, Harjot Singh, disappeared. It was only the second time in his life that he had left his family, but this time he did not return.
That day Sharan had been woken at five o’clock in the morning by her mother, Gurpreet Kaur. The late September sun was just rising, wreathed in mist. She lay on a mat in the courtyard of the house, her dark eyes squeezed shut, hands pressed tight against her ears to block the sound of her mother’s voice cutting through her comfortable blanket of sleep.
“Do I have to do everything in this house?” Gurpreet shouted from the kitchen, where she was already cooking the morning meal though it was barely past dawn. “Look at this princess! Servants she has! Maids and chaprasis!
Wake up this minute, or you will get a bucket of water on your face.”
How unfair, Sharan thought. Would she
have the chance to sleep until the sun climbed into the sky? A tear worked its way down her cheek. Another tear joined the first, and soon a storm of weeping shook her small body. “Why do I have to get up?” she sobbed. “I don’t
“There is no place in this house for wants, memsahib!” Gurpreet called sharply, smacking a ladle hard against the edge of a pot. Her daughter knew how effectively she used her kitchen utensils to indicate various degrees of annoyance, from mild indignation to rage. “Needs, yes, those I can take care of,” she continued, “but wants are for rich people! Understand?” Another tap-tap of metal on metal. Sharper, more insistent this time.
A warm hand descended on Sharan’s heaving shoulder and shook it gently.
“Wake up, child,” said her father. “Amma is calling you.”
Sharan sniffed a little louder, removed her hands from her ears and turned over so that her father could see she had been weeping. She opened her eyes dolefully and, pushing out her lower lip, allowed it to tremble, hoping that she looked tragic, that he would take her side, as he so often did. Was she not his favourite daughter? Was she not the only person who listened to his endless stories of a ship called the
and a voyage that ended in nothing?