Book Review : Prelude to a riot by Annie Zaidi

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About the Book

In a peaceful southern town, amidst lush spice plantations, trouble is brewing. In the town live three generations of two families, one Hindu and the other Muslim, whose lives will be changed forever by the coming violence. At risk are Dada, the ageing grandfather who lovingly tends and talks to the plants on his estate; his strong-willed grandchildren, Abu and Fareeda; the newly married Devaki, who cannot fathom the forces that are turning her husband and her father into fanatics; Mariam, of the gifted hands, who kneads and pounds the fatigued muscles of tourists into submission; and Garuda, the high-school teacher who, in his own desperate way, is trying to impart the truth about the country’s history to a classroom of uninterested students. Quietly but surely, the spectre of religious intolerance is beginning to haunt the community in the guise of the Self-Respect Forum whose mission is to divide the town and destroy the delicate balance of respect and cooperation that has existed for hundreds of years. Told with brilliance, restraint and extraordinary power, Annie Zaidi’s book is destined to become a classic.

About the Author

Annie Zaidi is the author of Gulab, Love Stories # 1-14, and Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales which was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Prize (non-fiction). She is the editor of Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing. She won The Hindu Playwright Award in 2018 for her play Untitled 1, and the Nine Dots prize in 2019 for her essay ‘Bread, Cement, Cactus’. 

A fearless novel that speaks incisively about the divided times we live in.’– The Hindu 

A sharp and succinct portrait of the country’s fractious present.’– Mint Lounge 

Prelude to a Riot is marked by a keen sense of observation, a remarkable sense of place and pulsates with lithe writing, informed in no small part by Zaidi’s strength as a poet.’ – HuffPost 

‘Annie Zaidi’s Prelude to a Riot captures the anger and anxiety of our times.’ – Hindustan Times 

Zaidi’s emotionally intelligent novel is remarkable in the complexity it manages to convey.’- Open 

A story of our times, Annie Zaidi’s new novel takes us into a peaceful town where bigots are using history as ammo to fuel hate.’ – Mid-day 

Prelude to a Riot: A cautionary tale for the times.’ –The Hindu Business Line

Having read all of Annie Zaidi's works till now, this book was automatically a part of by TBR since the time it had released. I picked this up with a lot of expectations and Zaidi, doesn't disappoint at all. Though when I started I was slightly skeptical about it as I wasn't sure what to expect from the book. I did not want to read a preachy version of things that were going bad to worse in a blink of an eye. I wanted an honest account of the resilience that was simmering in the hearts of everyone. And I was glad to find a reflection of that strength in this book. 

With a minimalistic cover in white and nothing but text in different sizes, shapes and colours to claim the title and author's names, Zaidi's bold new work sets the tone for a reader. This is exactly what this book is about. No frills attached - is what this book is all about. Stark reality, as naked as it can be, presented to you in an unflinching manner. It would be unfair to call this book a work of fiction for it much more than that. While some may argue that it is nonfiction as it also resembles a commentary on the current political scenario in the country but I would refrain from tagging in that category as well. For me this book , is a piece of art. 
Bold, fearless and absolutely daring this book is the much needed voice in today's times.

While growing up, I never knew as many categories as much as I know today. Be it caste, religion, social status or profession, we have managed to divide ourselves in so many ways that it is difficult to remember all of them. Struggling to grow beyond those labels and to be seen without these tags, every individual I know today in our country is struggling to find their identity. Zaidi's work is extremely short and crisp. Yet, this book manages to raise so many valid questions that you are left pondering long after you are done reading this book.  

A series of monologues have been put together, to narrate a tale of political unrest. The monologues are interwoven to make them seem connected. Though it might look like a story to start with, by the time you are done reading this you realise, it is far from being a work of fiction. With the recent surge in nationalism all across the world, we are left wondering about a lot of things. Divisive politics are being used by leaders to create chaos and people have been reduced to mere puppets in their hands to be played with in the name of religion and politics. It is such a sad state of affairs. When you look around you realise how history is repeating itself century after century and yet there are so many lessons we refuse to learn. People are being killed and lynched in the name of religion, there is sheer chaos all around. To add to it, the real world problems like crashing economies, lack of jobs and worst, a pandemic is also there. Instead of choosing humanity and love, we are blinded by things which are of no importance. 

With a line up of interesting characters, Zaidi's book baffles you with its sheer honesty. Every character has a story to tell, something to add to the already existent milieu. Interestingly, the story, characters and places are devoid of any recognition. Probably done to highlight the global appeal this entire scenario has. The story is set is an unnamed village down south and the group of people divided over opinion are "them" and "us".Beyond geographical boundaries and definitions of gender, age, caste or religion - these characters could have existed in any social setting and still have felt as relatable as they are in this. Their thoughts might rattle you at some point, but you cannot help but no in agreement at their precariousness. Every individual draws the reader into the deepest corner of their minds, sharing their thoughts and darkest fears through monologues, making us wonder if we really know everyone in real life we claim to know. How much do we hide inside that beautiful mind of ours! Though the conversations are full of questions and observations, they seldom look meaningful. Deeply reminiscent of today's times again where meaningful conversations are a lost art. They have now been replaced with polarized debates and useless arguments based on things of no importance at all. 

The struggle they go through to cope up with the changes in time, the shift in ideologies and thoughts and the resulting chaos is extremely well captured in words by Annie Zaidi. The restlessness, the hopelessness, the turmoil mixed with a the sense of doom is accurately depicted. She doesn't mince with words in letting the reader know how confusing it all is and not only in the way it sounds but in reality too. Overall, the socio-political commentary is mind-boggling in this book. Through this book, it is interesting to note, whose privilege comes at whose cost and how does one define privilege. Once again, it reminded me of privilege and how we take so much for granted around us. It is a stark reminder of the uncountable times we feel life is unfair only to realise that we are the ones who are being unreasonable. 

Our identity is not defined by things we had no role in choosing or creating. Our identity is defined by our actions and words that we choose and create/do. 

We live in strange times. We need each other as a society or a country to grow and thrive. Still, we do not want to accept that. We are happy knowing the so-called hierarchy of the society and our place in it, despite knowing that it has no value or role to play in our lives. 

In this brilliantly entertaining take on the current scenario, this book is a must read!