Title : A Flight of Pigeons
Author : Ruskin Bond
Publisher : Puffin
ISBN : 0-6700-4927-1
War never has made sense to ordinary individuals
Though a very simple sentence formed using very simple words, yet it is brimming with so much sense. Power changes hands, rulers come and go, boundaries expand and shrink but how do all these things impact an ordinary individual? The common people may not face the bare swords, or the arrows may not be pointed at them directly or they may not be the target of many bullets but they are the ones who get hurt which may not be visible apparently. They end up enduring the loss of their loved ones, their happiness and then getting on with humungous task of rebuilding the lives from ground zero.
I feel 'A Flight of Pigeons' is Ruskin Bond's tribute to these mute sufferers, immaterial of the class, community, religion or nationality they belong to.
'A Flight of Pigeons' is a historical fiction which may be based on true events, as the writer points out. Set against the backdrop of 1857 uprising in Shahjahanpur, it is actually a narration of how events unfolded from the eyes and through the voice of Ruth Labadoor, a thirteen year old British girl. Perspectives change when sides switch. What Indians call as their first freedom struggle or uprising is termed as revolt in British lexicon.
Ruth witnesses the massacre of British civilians in the church and his father happens to be one of the victims there. She along with her mother Miriam, grandmother, aunt and cousins take refuge in kind-hearted Lala Ramjilal's house. But besotted by the looks of Ruth, Javed Khan forcibly brings her and her mother to his house with the sole motive of convincing Miriam to make Ruth his second wife.
Javed Khan comes across as a person who is passionate and desperate to make his desires a reality but sensible enough to wait for willing acceptance of the same by Ruth's mother. Miriam being a very intelligent, wise, confident and strong-willed woman, brings Javed Khan around by striking a deal with him that the future of Delhi should decide the future of this alliance. The status quo goes on for almost a year and a few months.
Miriam and Ruth's luxurious locks, polite speech, dexterous needlework and affable nature win them many women admirers and supporters. Though surrounded by some very sympathetic women, they underwent long period of constant fear and dread of being in the midst of danger every single moment of their stay there. As we all know, British ruled over India for almost nine decades more after this uprising was successfully overpowered by them. So the long patient wait of Ruth and her family members did end eventually and they did get to lead a normal life.
Being a Ruskin Bond's creation, 'A Flight of Pigeon' beautifully lives up to the high levels of sensitivity and insightful portrayal that this story demanded. An extraordinary piece of writing bringing out the saga of survival of women who took refuge in hostile situation but their wit, grit and patience led them to the light beyond the dark tunnel.
I began this review with Ruskin Bond's words and would like to end it with another set of his words from the book - In times of conflict and inter-religious or racial hatred, there are always a few (just a few) who are prepared to come to the aid of those unable to defend themselves.