A Burning by Megha Majumdar

‘But this is no ordinary thief. This is a woman who attacked a train full of people. She killed, directly or indirectly, more than a hundred people. Now, the TV channels are reporting, she is silent in prison. She has granted no interviews. She has offered no details, and other than a confession, which she insists she was forced to sign, she has shared no information. She is protesting that she is innocent.’ 

Majumdar’s debut, A Burning, is a reflection of the classic dreams v/s ethics in a world where everyone is in a rat race to prove themselves. When Jivan, a young girl of twenty-two is arrested on the grounds of a simple Facebook text which is construed as a linkage to a popular terrorist group that burnt a train, killing hundreds at the Kolabagan Train Station; the readers get to see the true hypocrisy of the four estates of the State. Following her arrest, it is up to two of her acquaintances to testify and prove her innocence- the enigmatic Hijra, Lovely who dreams of one day ruling the screen with her acting prowess and her PT Teacher who saw the spark of a good athlete in her once. But will each testify proving Jivan innocent given that they have their own HUGE dreams in life?  A Burning not only symbolizes the burning train which indeed creates a trickle effect and starts the series of events but also the burning within the hearts of the lead characters to excel, to be noticed, to be free, to be popular – a burning which is to stay with them forever, even after the flames have dried up.

The simple story weaved around Jivan’s arrest and her fight with the law bares open the very many loopholes in the system. From political dictates shaping the lives of people to dreams consuming a person into self-obsession; to reportage which often manipulates stories to add in the desired bit of masala to it to make it eye-catching are all relatable. It is interesting to note how all the characters represent the outcasts in society. Jivan being a young Muslim school dropout from the lower class finds it difficult to make her truth heard. Her economic handicap proves to be the biggest hindrance in making people aware of her situation. Lovely represents the transgender community and yet strives very hard to excel in her acting classes so that one day she can become a popular actress. Despite having talent, her identity hinders her from achieving her dreams. It is indeed a pure irony that those the society considers being capable of blessing children and couples at ceremonies have to beg to the same society for being considered at par as a human. PT Sir on the other hand is considered as one in the reduced ranks of teachers with only a handful of occasions like Republic Day to prove his abilities while adjusting microphones for school occasions for the rest of the time. His inferiority complex of trying to become more than a partial teaching staff is finally given vent to when he chances upon a political rally and gets absorbed into politics.

A Burning is a story of the evolution of characters, society, dreams, and most importantly, ethics. It is indeed remarkable to see how the characters are built up by Majumdar throughout the novel. Even though the world is considered as a social community or a society, at the end of the day, to each his/ her own prevails. This individualistic nature of mankind is purely circumstantial and one cannot but wonder after all who is to be blamed- the social oppressor or the individual oppressed. Every character has a back story that pushes them forward to behave in the manner that they did throughout the story. Even if one sympathizes with Jivan, one cannot but not support Lovely and PT Sir too. After all, don’t individual aspirations, dreams and success come before any community or social goal?

The hollowness of the four estates- Legislation, Executive, Judiciary, and Media – is beautifully portrayed in the novel. How each of them is intertwined, maneuvered, and manipulated keeping in mind the cause at hand. More often than not for some powerful sections of the society to succeed in their power retention, many unknown faces are made to become political scapegoats. Media on the other hand really does not ease the tension by knocking on the doors of the oppressed and asking several questions- sometimes obnoxious ones. They are often trusted by the victims but many times the truth is shattered behind the tools of editing in accordance with media policies and politics!

This powerful debut talks about the burning away of emotions and ethics more than the burning train. It is a burning of the cowardice of the common people to bask in the deceit of disillusioned glory and power. It is the burning away of one’s morals which are taken over by suppressed hunger for power and fulfilling personal desires. A much-recommended book that serves as a mirror to contemporary society and how it is nothing short of a chessboard where people are but mere pawns in the hands of the four estates.

Publisher: Penguin Random House

No. of Pages: 289

Available at Your Nearest Bookstore and on Amazon & Flipkart

Rating: 3.5 / 5