‘The Radiance of a Thousand Suns’, written by Manpreet Sodhi Someshwar is an epic novel that brings together stories from the history of Punjab which have been forever secluded from the public narrative. The plot revolves around the story of Nikki Nalwa and her quest to complete her father’s book. The key to finishing her father’s lifelong work is Jyot, who is a survivor of both the partition of India in 1947 and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
The book opens with the birth of Nikki during the emergency of 1976 into a Sikh family. The Nalwa family is shown in a very different light, the Nalwa’s are different from many families residing in India at that time. In a time when dissent was repressed, women were overseen and religion manipulated; Niki was brought up in a family where feminism and activism were actively advocated for and discussed at dinner tables. The book aims to depict the happenings of the events and takes the readers into the time of the events, making them feel a tiny portion of emotions which the victims must’ve felt.
The name of the book ‘The Radiance of a Thousand Suns’ has various interpretations. It refers to Niki’s daughter- Mehar’s addition of a bright sun motif to Nooran’s fulkari. It also refers to J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita and it also refers to how Nikki perceived Nooran in her eyes- with the radiance of a thousand suns.
Someshwar in her book draws verses from Mahabharata, relating them to the events that were happening throughout the book implying that history repeats itself, everything is connected and Mahabharata is very much like any real-life story. She also cites paragraphs of Mahabharata especially pertaining to Draupadi to further highlight the patriarchy in the Indian society which has existed since ancient times.
“If Mahabharata is the template for India, Draupadi is the template for Indian women… why then have successive retellers cast her in the mould of a vixen-wimp?” “If you are so interested in rehat-maryada, cultural traditions, observe them yourself. Why does religion always boil down to a rule book on how to control women?” These are some of the questions asked by Nikki that make us think, “Why is this actually so?” The author, in her book, tries to answer these questions which often remain unanswered.
The author’s great attention to detail is what strikes a chord with the readers. From the love cooked choori to the descriptive design of Nooran’s fulkari, the minutest of details have been taken care of. Every character of the book- Jyot, Niki, Niki`s daughter Mehar, Biji, Nooran, Jinder Nalwa have been sketched out in great detail. The characters find a place in our hearts and leave a void when the story ends. Nooran is my personal favourite. She is an epitome of strength and fearlessness, an active feminist who has strong opinions on men and religion. As Nooran used to say-
“In the presence of women, men’s brain descend to their groins.”
Never did she think twice before standing up for the right thing, no matter what were the consequences. Jyot is by far the most tragic character of the story. Jyot’s story is a sharp reminder of how violence shatters a person’s present as well as his future, it mentally scars a person forever and normality becomes impossible after that. Although all the characters have been a victim of violence, Jyot’s story is truly jaw-dropping and remains hidden until the very end.
From the partition to the emergency to the rise of the Khalistan movement and the anti-Sikh riots as well as the 9/11 attack, the author covers a wide range of events that shook the nation, it brings forward the issues which long have gripped our society. Gender discrimination, ethnic cleansing, religious violence, violence against women, oppressive government, and racism are some of the issues that are explicitly depicted in the story. The author highlights the innate quality of violence present in all humans especially men who would even kill their neighbours, their friends when invoked enough, all in the name of religion. The radiance of a thousand suns, covering such horrific issues is in no sense a light read. But it demands to be read. As Someshwar quoted in her book-
“Women’s stories, men’s stories, enemies’ stories, friend’s stories- we need more stories. So that we can break the silence. So that we can remember, mourn, grapple with the violence within us….”
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