Megha Majumdar’s debut novel, A Burning, has been much in news since its publication in June. The novel is set in modern-day Kolkata. It all starts simply enough— a young Muslim girl Jivan scrolls through Facebook using her smartphone which she has purchased from her own salary. A gruesome train attack by terrorists has just taken place near her neighbourhood and it’s at this sensitive time, she posts an ill-advised comment on Facebook.
Words are powerful. They can create or they can destroy. Little did Jivan know that a careless comment on a social media page will be deemed enough to pronounce her an enemy of the state. A comment is all it takes to put her behind bars with the charges of treason. Jivan has no means or resources to prove her innocence and she solely depends on the testimonies of Lovely, a transgender and PT Sir. Lovely is taking acting lessons and dreams of becoming a star. PT Sir has just stepped into the dirty world of politics and is trying to gain a foothold. So we have two characters trying hard to realize their dreams juxtaposed against a poor, helpless young woman who is not in control of her life anymore.
Jivan makes an innocent mistake which has dire consequences. This shows us the ugly side of social media. Beware of who you chat with and what you post on social media. And then we have Lovely and PT Sir who show us the ugly side of ambition. How one can be tempted to compromise his conscience for status, name and fame!
The author covers a lot in this short and deceptively simple novel. This multi-perspective, voice driven novel is wonderfully plotted. Three narrators tell their life stories and how these three lives intersect around a single, devastating lie make for a powerful read. The novel is also a powerful commentary on the current socio-political state of India where one has no power of speech and pseudo nationalism is creating further religious disharmony. Blind ambition, corruption and injustice fuel the story and the plot drives towards a chilling end.
Talking about the three main characters, one can’t help feel pity and at the same time feel enraged at the injustice faced by Jivan. Lovely is quite an interesting character who is determined to become an actress against all odds. PT Sir represents a typical middle class man. The author has well described their moral dilemmas and their challenges.
On the whole, A Burning is an exceptional story which talks about politics, minorities, ambition, morals and personal gains. The compelling storyline will stay with you long after you have finished the book. A must read!
Title: A Burning
Author: Megha Majumdar
Originally published: 2 June 2020
Page count: 304
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Genres: Thriller, Suspense, Political fiction
©2020 Shaloo Walia All rights reserved