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What The Body Remembers by Shauna Baldwin

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    What The Body Remembers by Shauna Baldwin

    Shauna Baldwin,won prize for her almost first novel,about Sikhs culture woven around fictional stories .She is a sikh who grew in Canada,& then married a blue eyed pure white Irish catholic ,now sttled handsomely in the Anglo Saxon priviliged culture in Wisconsin.
    May be she is trying what other writers have also attempted to TEACH culture through fictional accounts.At best ,it makes even authentic parts of the novel unbelievable by being a fiction & the effort & research she went into to detail not much interesting for non sikhs into local customs,ettioquette dress foods & cliches could come only from a 2nd generation Canadian trying to make up the hiatus of not knowing much about one's own Sikh identity,desire to teach non sikhs & doing at the exopense of buying books public may be ambitious but leaves one having been taken for a ride

    the following review appeared in the pakistani newspaper "the news"

    A flawed masterpiece

    What The Body Remembers

    By Shauna Singh Baldwin

    Publishers: Transworld Publishers, London

    Price: 6.99 Pp: 538

    Shauna Singh Baldwin's novel may have many flaws like other works on the
    partition. But Nadir Ali says the author's treatment of feminism and history
    make the book different

    Books have been there for a long time, literally for thousands of years, and
    they range from the divine to the mystic to the how-to guides like Kama

    There is no wonder then if we have novels which range from those exploring
    divine wisdom to the ones which poetically tell some interesting tales and
    to the utter garbage that mostly comprises the best-seller category.
    All books have a necessary relationship with the market and this is more
    true for a novel than any other book. The novel came out with the advent of
    the printing press. One of many reasons of its gaining currency is the extra
    leisure time which the invention of many machines provided to the human
    beings. Then came the print media, the magazine and the newspaper, followed
    by the one-eyed monster called the TV and the time earlier one would have
    devoted to the reading of a novel is now all gobbled up by all these things.

    I digressed to such a length because Shauna Singh Baldwin's award-winning
    international best-seller novel What The Body Remembers also contains all
    this, from the improbably divine to the utterly ridiculous. For the first
    one hundred pages everything -- from the names of the places to the crops
    and the social picture of a real village, Pari Darwaza in Rawalpindi
    district -- seems fake. You do not have peasants like the heroine's father
    and abundance of produce to be sent to Lahore and Peshawar markets. Nobody
    in Rawalpindi, even in a Pir's house, would be named Abu Ibrahim _ that
    hardly happens anywhere outside the Arabic speaking world. Yes, sometimes
    the eldest of a Hindu family would become a Sikh, as is the heroine's
    father, but family ties always prove stronger than the religious ones. I
    have known and lived with such families. To a Jat Sikh being a Jat is more
    important than being a Sikh even today, although Sikhs are more religious in
    appearance and practice than the adherents of any other religion in the
    Punjab. They would beat Punjabi Hindus in that and leave the Muslims far
    behind. In this novel too, Sikhism, its practice and politics, figure

    But to Shauna Singh Baldwin, a seasoned woman Sikh writer of Canadian
    origin, who writes in an Arabian Nights vein to start with, such lapses are
    part of the colour she wants to lend to the story she has to tell. The less
    knowledgeable readers of the English speaking world may accept all this at
    its face value but to those who know the area her social chit chat and even
    the customs she describes seem fake. No Muslim lady would wear burqa in her
    bedroom of a government house on Lahore's Club Road, but who cares in
    Gibraltar or British Columbia.

    Accolades have been showered on this book that would be the envy of any
    native writer. "A captivating jewel of a novel" (Washington Post). "My
    favourite" (Vogue). "The characters shimmer with life, their predicaments
    grab the reader by the throat" (Times of London). "Formidable!" (New York
    Times). "Rich and gripping" (Times Literary Supplement).

    After these accolades an occasional columnist like me should not dare touch
    the book without wearing white velvet gloves. But as a writer of Punjabi who
    has lived through two holocausts, 1947 and 1971, I had compelling reasons to
    read and analyse the book. I spent the best of three nights in reading the
    book at a slow pace to be able to understand the book completely. Now I know
    every trick in Ms Shauna's bag but I must confess that I was finally

    The book is a more serious study of fateful events of the 1947 than it
    appears on the surface despite all its weaknesses. Out of all Urdu, English
    and Punjabi novels that I have read on the subject, it seems to be the best.
    It can be as melodramatic as Nasim Hijazi's Khak-o-Khoon and as biased in
    Sikhs' favour as Khak-o-Khoon is in Muslims'.

    But Shauna has an argument weightier than others. Sikhs lost the most in
    terms of property and identity than anyone else during the partition.
    Property is dearer than kith and kin, if you are a tiller of land or an
    owner of a factory.

    Moreover, Shauna wins on account of a feminist study of the events. Two
    women, the childless wife of a Balliol educated engineer and his second wife
    Roop (the heroine), are at the heart of the novel. Even the name of the
    novel by a very complex Karmic, Kismet definition, is what a 'woman's body
    remembers' through all its births and its history and experience. The clever
    Kashmiri seller of costly shahtoosh shawls says: "These shawls choose their
    owners." How much it is like "marriages are made in heaven" dictum. The
    senior Sardarni sighs and aptly answers: "I wish the women could do the
    same!" But this is a theme to which the author has done full justice in old
    ladies and the young, in loved ladies and the not-so-loved ones, in
    spinsters, in poor relatives, in mothers dying in childbirth, in women with
    and without children, in rich and poor and in defiant and obedient. There is
    literally a cast of thousands. This feminism and an element of history
    transform the book to something quite different from others.

    Woman is the essence of this book from beginning to end and on this score
    alone the author comes out a winner. She proves that the partition abused
    the women most. Anywhere when history is laid bare woman is the victim.

    The conclusion of the book is not about partition. Nor does it lie in the
    beaten Oxford educated Anglicised Sardarji chief engineer migrating to East
    Punjab after partition and coming to life when persuaded to come to bed the
    first time after the partition trauma which has left him tired and listless.
    Kalwant Singh Virk's story of a woman pressing her finger while pouring
    lassi could beat any such story hollow. But Shauna makes the heroine use a
    wile of her own. After ten years of marriage she complains of loss of
    hearing on one side which is always a hidden birth defect. Can that be real?
    The senior Sardarni, the first wife who had committed suicide by acquiring
    TB germs by sleeping with a tuberculosis friend (improbable?), is reborn
    again as a defiant girl.

    "This is my Karma! The man's voice comes deep, comes low, falling like a
    gramophone winding down. I do not need words, because my body remembers
    without benefit of words, -- that he was disappointed on the birth of a
    girl. Men who do not welcome girl children, will not treasure me as I grow
    to be woman though he calls me a princess -- Kaur -- because Guru (Nanak)
    told him to... I have come so far, I have borne so much pain and
    emptiness... But men have not changed."

    The novelist also uses the element of history with greater skill than most
    other novelists. As someone said Carlyle read a hundred books and wrote the
    history of the French Revolution but Dickens read two books and wrote A Tale
    of Two Cities, which is a better book about the revolution than Carlyle's.
    Shauna Singh uses history artfully and shows a good insight
    My Sahib


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