Friday, November 08, 2019

Book Review - In Search of Heer by Manjul Bajaj

Photo Credit HERE
In a modern re-telling of an ancient story, first told by Damodar Gulati in the 16th century, author Manjul Bajaj, joins the many versions of the same story told over the years, by many authors and poets. However, this time, the distinctive pen which is the author’s mark, is written in the 21st century with an engaging, often, addictive method of narration. Having done this, Manjul Bajaj joins an illustrious group of writers and poets, filmmakers who have written on the same theme, Heer and Ranjha. 

In Search of Heer is a simple tale, starting with the love story of Heer, the beautiful daughter of Mihir Chuchak, a rich landlord of Jhang Syal , and Ranjha, the spoilt and handsome son of an affluent landlord in village Takht Hazara, who are destined to meet and fall in love and marry with the support of Heer’s father, in somewhat of a concealed manner, unlike a big, fat Punjabi wedding, with relatives, from far and near thrown in. The secret is found out by Heer’s paternal uncle, Kaidu Langra, and all hell breaks out as he connives with Heer’s mother, and weds her off to Saida, of the Khera clan, equally, wealthy. But the reader must find out what happens to Heer in this marriage. 

In the meantime, Ranjha has realized that he has lost Heer, and must now find the balm to his broken heart by embracing the spiritual path. A flutist, whose music has a soul, Ranjha is well nigh liberation but is again pulled back by the appearance of a crow, which reveals to him, that Heer is waiting for him and so he must waste no time but proceed immediately to where Heer is. Ranjha leaves with his flute totally naked of any other desire but to find his Heer.

In a strange twist of events, Heer finds a friend in her marital home, who is her sister in law, with no less a hidden love story in her heart and the reader is allowed a peep into what might happen next. Breathe easy. You are about to commence into another rough ride with many twists and turns.  

This said, In Search of Heer, is much more than just a story re-told. There are many lessons to learn from the many voices that narrate the story – crows, pigeons, goat and each is has a unique voice, I most loved to engage with. A humungous amount of research has gone into telling the reader more about each of these animals and birds so that the reader is enriched in many other ways, understanding the nature of these creatures. Research has also gone into the life of an ascetic and someone in search of a spiritual life, which gives solace.  

However, for me, the most endearing parts were the role of Heer as a feminist icon. She exudes courage, valour, willfulness, and is stubborn and outspoken, uncompromising. Yet, vulnerable and receptive to love and longing. Her questions are relevant to our times, and many of us can hear our own voice in her words.

No less enchanting was the spiritual side of the book, without being religious. It calls the reader to conclude that there are no short cuts from sex to super-consciousness, except by actually living it. And the way out is through. The symbolic crow is the id in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis as it were. Love lived in totality may well be the eternal transcendence we seek as humans.

The book is a living testimony of a skillful hand at work and an astute intellect that can gather the story from many quarters and reproduce a new version which appeals to the modern, 21st century reader and their understanding and engagement with love in its many facets.