IN this very pertinent novel which comes at a very opportune moment when news of ‘honour killings’ can be read almost every week in newspapers, the protagonist Jugni, a Jat girl, is shown torn between family loyalty and her love.
Set in the year 1909 at Kala Saand, in Rohtak district of the erstwhile Punjab province, Jugni, a 16-17-year old girl sees her Tau (paternal uncle), who is a widower start living with his younger brother’s wife (Chaachi for Jugni), who too is a widow. She also sees girls in the village get married, often spending their childhood scrambling up trees, chatting and whispering secrets and eating ber, jamun and green mangoes – “girls, who had giggled excitedly and thought that getting married was about new bangles and new clothes and the beginning of a new life,” when in reality “it was the end of living.” Considering this, it was “better to jump in the fire than go around it, really.”
Raakha, a strapping youth, leaves his home to take up a job as a teacher in Kala Saand. Here he sees Jugni and decides to make her his own. In a society governed by strict marriage rules and the diktats of the Khap panchayat, Jugni knows love is not an option; her beloved uncle, whose unspoken favourite she has always been, will die if he ever learns of this betrayal of family honour; her brother, her grandmother who has brought her up, their social standing in the village, everything will be lost; she would end up a corpse hanging from a tree. She cannot, she must not – meet Raakha again. And yet- and yet-
Meanwhile it is discovered that Tau has been slow poisoned by both Raakha and Chaachi as they did not want to see him suffer from tuberculosis, which in any case meant a slow death for him. This is a poignant tale of a young Jat girl torn between family loyalty and the undeniable impulse of love.
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