Co-authored by Ananya Pande:
Gurmehar Kaur has a story to tell. This time, however, she has written a book about it.
Nineteen-year-old Gurmehar was in the news last year because she joined a peaceful campaign after violent clashes at Delhi University’s Ramjas College. She became the target of an onslaught of social media vitriol – including death threats, rape threats and furious commentary from people ranging from politicians to cricketers, actors to media-influencers.
“When people ask me where I gather strength from, I cannot just point at one incident. My story does not start with me,” writes Gurmehar in her recent book. She doesn’t talk about the incident that took place last year – instead, she talks about the events that led to the incident.
“Small Acts of Freedom” is an articulate work of non-fiction that tells the story of three generations of strong, passionate women who have faced the world and battled with it, on their own terms.
In this book, Gurmehar writes about two generation of women in her family who fought their own battles and stood by each other. They kept going on, no matter what happened. The story starts with Gurmehar’s 3-year-old self experiencing the sudden death of her father, Capt. Mandeep Singh, who died while fighting the Kargil war. She doesn’t have many memories of her father, but she has beautifully crafted every little memory they shared together. Starting from the bumpy rides on a Royal Enfield bike to her constant protest of not letting her father go to the valley, she narrates her story and the reasons that made her strong enough to stand against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). The book has an unusual narrative structure that crisscrosses between the past and the present.
Amarjeet, Gurmehar’s grandmother, lost her husband Ajeet at a very young age. They had just shifted from Vizag to Nangal in the 1970s when this incident took place. Ajeet died while saving his fellow laborers from a load that had snapped from a crane. After the incident, both Pammi and Raji had to shift to their grandparent’s house at Saharanpur.
The book then describes the story of their struggles while growing up. Both Pammi and Raji had to travel a long way in a bus to reach their school. Then, they had to bear the brunt of their aunt’s activities when they were staying with their uncle in Uttar Pradesh. But, in my opinion, the one thing that should strike a cord with the readers is the fact that Amarjeet struggled a lot in order to raise her children. She gave tuitions to the village children and ran a tailoring shop to put food on the table.
Furthermore, the book tells the love story of Young Harry (Gurmehar’s father) and Raji (Gurmehar’s mother), and how passionate her father was to join the Army from a very young age. Gurmehar doesn’t have very distinct memories of her father. Therefore, she vividly describes the three years she spent with her father. Raji lost her husband at a very young age. Initially, she was exhausted and depressed, but she had to snap out of it thinking about her children and her husband’s request to take care of them.
Gurmehar beautifully describes the transition in her mother’s behaviour and appearance after the incident. Whenever Gurmehar was afraid, she would hide behind her mother’s dupatta. This was her favorite activity – to look at the world through her dupatta. But somehow, the colour of her bleak world changed from bright red or blue to white and pale yellow.
The story also talks about Gurmehar’s struggle of growing up without a father. There were times when she wanted to give up. But she was motivated by the ‘tainted fact’ that her father died while fighting with real bullets in the battlefield – and since his blood runs through her veins, she can’t lose hope that easily. The book ends with Gurmehar turning 16 and her sister, Bani, visiting their father’s unit-raising day at Srinagar.
This is one of those rare books that will make you travel through time and make you cry as you go deep into her story. The essence of this book is strengthened by the mere fact that it records real life instances and how their amalgamation led the author to be who she is.
With the individualistic perspective it carries, the book is an intriguing read. it is also well-written – in a way that most people will find easy to understand – thus giving it the added charms of easy comprehensibility and credibility.
Ratnadeep Chakraborty is pursuing his Honours in journalism from Christ University. He has written over 20 articles about student politics and protests. He has worked as a research analyst for multiple politicians and political bodies across the country like B.PAC. He was the campus ambassador for the LeadHER programme, which aimed at improving the sex ratio at the workplace. He started with his individual book-reviewing activities when he was just 15 years old.
Ratnadeep is also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of “The Honest Critique”. Being exhausted by other forms of debating, he was intrigued by the community debates. He joined Dialogue (a student-run, policy-making institute) as the General Secretary. You can get in touch with him at email@example.com.
Ananya Pande is a student at Christ University who is pursuing media studies, economics, and political sciences. She has a knack for literature and enjoys writing poetry as well. You can get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.