Book Review: Roll of Honour

Part of South Asian Challenge 2013 and Reading Challenge 2013: First Reads


This review is honoured to be on the author’s website.

I had earlier interviewed Amandeep and his answers were the major push behind me wanting to read the book.

I was born at the end of 1983 in Bhopal. Two major events happened in Bhopal around my formative, childhood years – the Bhopal gas tragedy and Hindu Muslim riots in the aftermath of babri masjid demolition. As a reader and a adventurous one, always with the heart to try out new genres and know about new things, places and people I have read many a accounts of the various events that have shaped the destiny of my nation. Except the gas tragedy and riots. Any riots. Possibly because they bring alive my own demons. They remind me of the reality I have seen and see around me. I have seen the kids, my classmates wheezing – the after effect of the gas tragedy; scared eyes on classmates – the after effect of the riots. The eyes still haunt me and I am perpetually running away from certain realities in the embezzlement of fiction that may touch base human emotions but doesn’t touch human suffering at the hands of fellow countrymen. Countrymen they knew. Neighbors, friends, co-workers, possibly. When Amandeep Sandhu asked me to read his second book for my views as a reader I knew if I say a yes, it would be my test too. A test if the adventurous reader has the guts too. I had earlier interviewed Amandeep and his answers were the major push behind me wanting to say a yes. His answers gave me a peek into his mind. I knew, ‘Here is a mind I have to read.’ And so began the word journey into Roll of Honour….

The book takes us to 1984 in Punjab. The time when Operation Blue Star (the Indian army’s attack on The Golden temple in Amritsar) has ended and the whole of Punjab and India is confused. Confused about allegiance, integrity even nationality. The youth is joining the Khalistani movement; turning militants, the army is arresting and killing Sikhs; guilty or innocent – not withstanding, riots have broken out in Delhi; Hindus are killing Sikhs for reasons Appu cannot comprehend. Appu. Yes he is our protagonist. The narrative is his perception, understanding, confusion, experience and observations. He is a regular mona punjabi class 12 boy in the military school at Jassabad in Punjab. He has 3 ambitions at the start of his final year in school – he the head boy, pass out well and join the National Defense Academy (NDA). His dilemmas start right the first day of the final year at school when the authorities change the rules of the school that has bound them the past 7 years. Son of a middle class father and schizophrenic mother, he cannot quit school when he is confused because his father cannot pay back the school his scholarships.

He cannot stand against his bullying Khalistan supporting classmates because he is very average and more so because he does not keep his hair long which as well as makes him a Hindu.He cannot support his Hindu classmates because for them after all he is a Sikh and his heart says – after all he is a Sikh.

Amidst all this confusion and rebellion at school, Balraj – ex-student and Appu’s ex – role model senior lands up in school as a refugee and seeks Appu’s permission to stay in the premises. With Balraj around, Appu’s class splits into pro-Khalistanis and anti-khalistanis (anyone not pro automatically fell into the anti group) and the violence outside the school, from which Appu’s father and a lot of other fathers want to protect him and his classmates, from crosses over into the school. Things move from bad to worse with the school authorities, among batch mates, within him and all around; inside and outside the school while bullying, domination through sodomy, threats and religious fervor and activities inclined towards violence are on a rise. Appu is forced to choose between Sikhs and India!

Amandeep writes beautifully to say the least. The beauty of his writing lies in the fact that he is so visual and expressive with words. So while you can imagine the palace turned military school in Jassabad, the riot emptied streets of Delhi and the bullet ridden golden temple in Amritsar; you also feel every emotion that Appu and his friends go through and that is a whole spectrum of emotions.

The rating is proof enough that for me the plot, narration, pace and everything about the book was flawless.

Definitely one of the best books by an Indian writer, I have read in the recent past. The writer gives us a honest, unabridged, impartial account of what a young mind could have gone through at such turbulent times and Appu is reflection of youth when their secure world as they know it is threatened, beliefs shattered and a near one taken away for a reason they cannot comprehend. The present day snippets by Appu as he prepares to write his story of the final year in school is conclusive of how some scars can never closed by forgetting or distraction, they have to come out of one’s system.

Recommended read for anyone willing to understand minds in threatened states. I on my part definitely want to read Amandeep’s first book .

Happy Reading.

Thank you Aman for getting me to Appu’s world. It was an Honour.

Title: Roll of Honour
Authors: Amandeep Sandhu
Publisher: Rupa Publications
ISBN: 978-81-291-2023-6
Pages: 275
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 5 of 5
Reviewed for: Author

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