192pp, Rs 299; Penguin
Suffocation: The story of the separation and love between Varuda Gupta and Ayusha Rastoga is an enchanting story about childhood love and youthful innocence in an era of unprecedented violence and chaos. In the collective memory of the nation, seismic events such as independence and division are seen as one unifying current. Few people remember the impact of these events on people’s lives. Choke is a brave attempt to correct this amnesia.
In 1947 the British are about to leave, and India has not yet been split in two. This makes little sense for Chota, who is currently under siege by his classmate Dick. Between taking care of her and working in her adoptive father’s paratrooper, he has little time for anything else. Trying to win their love requires the preparation of an aloo parafiah, but suddenly there is no more aloo in Chandney Chowk. In search of the missing Aloo, Split is proclaimed, and Chtoo is in the midst of intercommunity conflicts.
Art and anthropomorphism are directly reminiscent of the icon Mausa Spiegelmann. Many animals are used to record the diversity of the people who lived in Chandney Chowk at that time. The historical story is judiciously broadcast on the radio, the demagogic form of which creates an atmosphere. The humour that keeps popping up in the story is a happy surprise. This is especially difficult when you consider that we Indians have never really made peace with divisions, which leads to fairly regular clashes between communities. Radio announcements end with shameless contextual announcements, such as riots coming from Lahore, Amritsar and Calcutta. As long as there’s peace here in Delhi, who knows what might happen in the next few days. That is why you should go to Chandu Chandney Chowk Commercial Bank, which now quickly offers money for real estate to anyone who wants to escape quickly. Another source of humour is Bollywood’s conscious interpretation of certain sequences: The crickets sing to indicate an embarrassing silence at the first meeting between Chotu and Haer; Chotu’s aloo-parates give Haer memories of his dead mother’s cooking. Chapter titles are popular Bollywood texts or dialogues.
What the authors are able to capture so succinctly through the arc of the Chotha character is the growing knowledge of human behaviour and motives. The more Chota learns about the motives of Bapu, his adoptive father, and Cher, the leader of the mafia, the better he knows his own. In his guide we see the tension between the youthful passion for action and the moral paralysis of its consequences. In Heera we see the fear for freedom because of the problem of choice. Bapu faces the same problem as his memories of his own mistakes and the burden of guilt that comes with it. Through the Titar Gang, the perpetrators show the futility of the violence and, as Chota teaches, those who want to commit it are the first to flee if they bring it back. By radicalizing the story of Chotu and Cher, the reader understands that anger is simply uncontrollable loss and sorrow. Bapu will accept this truth if he drops his own need for justice to protect Chota. On Pandy’s advice to Chotha, he sends a speech by David Foster Wallace of This Is Water about how what we love is consumed. What’s a bombardment is Cherry’s base room. The justification for abolishing the choice as a means of alleviating pain has many manifestations. Loki’s most famous speech to the Avengers. The root of this evil is quite predictable.
Read more: Memories of another uprising in Delhi.
What makes Chochota such an appropriate lecture for our time is the pure truth that there will always be men like Cherè. Varoud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi do excellent work to understand the true price of individual freedom when a nation accepts its hard-won independence: that it cannot be accepted or given, but that it is always a choice. They remind us that we are often blinded by the good that is human by nature. Hatred is rarely endemic, it requires manipulation. Even when the crowd hears Cherry’s confession, they’re too shocked to act. People seldom ask whether they are being used and by whom; they ask whether there is a banal opportunist behind the mask of a fundamentalist. Unfortunately, the spiral of violence is spontaneous. According to Pandy, Chota’s best friend, we can’t afford to drop our heads, we have to keep trying. It’s time to end the cycle. In these turbulent times, chotu shows us how to kill our old demons. Not everyone can become a hero in the movie Ratatouille, but the hero can come from anywhere.
Percy Bharucha is a freelance writer and illustrator who publishes two fortnightly comic books, a guide for adults and a coffee table cat. Instagram: @persibharuha