Canada: Knopf, September 2006; France: editions Philippe Rey, March 2007; Holland: De Geus, 2006; Italy: Marsilio, Fall 2006; India: Penguin India
Reviewed by Farah Shroff
This book took me into the heads of 3 Indian women: two Sikhs and one mixed heritage South Indian/European. Through these fictitious women’s stories I learned about the partition of the Punjab and the senseless loss of thousands of lives and uprooting of millions of others; the Khalistan movement and the internal divisions it created, the Indian army’s invasion of the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the deaths of 2000 pilgrims; the horror of the aftermath of Indira Ghandi’s murder—over 3000 Sikhs were killed in a few days in Delhi alone; the Air India bombing and more. I wondered to myself how, a couple of decades after all this, India is led by Dr Man Mohan Singh and he is a very popular leader. So much change has occurred in such a relatively short period of time!
The book is very difficult to put down. Badami weaves a good tale and many times I found myself laughing out loud and on occasion, crying. One of the main characters, Nimmo, lost her mother, father and brothers when their small village in the Punjab virtually ceased to exist. She walked alone with other refugees for many days and in this long journey meets a family who is also devastated by the division of Punjab into Muslim and Sikh sections. This family adopts her and later she marries and has children of her own in Delhi. She knows nothing of her family of origin but that her aunt may live in Canada. Her husband, keen to make some connection with Nimmo’s family, during one of his many trips as a taxi driver to the Delhi airport, asks yet another traveler to Canada if they would be kind enough to take his wife’s name and address in case the traveler meets the aunt in Canada. Amazingly, Leela, one of the main characters, ends up meeting the aunt—Bibiji—and the two are reunited.
Much of the story happens in Vancouver in the Punjabi Market area. Badami has done a great deal of research about the many generations of Sikhs and other Indians in Vancouver and weaves a moving and fascinating tale based on many facts. The relationships between Indians in Vancouver and the homeland are also well illustrated. She is a gifted writer who understands life in India and life in Canada and movement between the countries. While the story is ultimately well titled because the night bird’s song is one that warns of danger—so the book is very sad–it is one that I will remember for a long time.