‘The Anatomy of Scars’ by author Arjun Raj Gaind was my first read in The Himalayan Book Club in January 2021. At that time, I had received the Advance Review Copy( ARC) of the book, which was later self-published by the author on Amazon and available for free for a limited period on Kindle Unlimited. I also attended an online meeting with the author arranged by the Himalayan Book Club.
It was published with this cover. I’d written about it on this blog then.
Recently, the author has published a book called ‘The Anatomy of Loss’ with Bloomsbury. ( 28 July 2022)
The new book cover
Here’s my review of the ARC of ‘The Anatomy of Scars’, which I shared on Goodreads and Amazon in January 2021.
‘The Anatomy of Scars’ by Arjun Raj Gaind is the story of Himmat, whose nani ( maternal grandmother) is a Muslim married to a Sikh. The initial part of the story is set in 1984 when Indira Gandhi is assassinated. Himmat witnesses something his nana (grandfather) does that disillusions him.
The story highlights how the Sikhs were persecuted after Operation Blue Star. It also conveys the other side of the story. Nana says “In the future, a time will come when people will speak of 1984 dismissively and blame Bhindranwala and Mrs. Gandhi for what is happening here in Punjab, but they are not the ones to blame. It is us, puttar, you and I, the watchers and the talkers, sitting on our sofas and running away when it is time to stand up and fight for what is ours. We are the ones who have killed Punjab. We were given paradise, and we have turned it into jehannum.”
Several years later, Himmat moves to London to study, and the rest of the book details his experiences there. Himmat is a man searching for his identity. His sense of rootlessness is highlighted – “I wasn’t Indian anymore or Punjabi, or even Sikh. I was a nobody, a man without a country, without history, a refugee in the truest sense of the word. A refugee from my past, a refugee from myself.” In London, he becomes part of an anarchist group, who wanted a separate state of Khalistan. When Himmat meets the leader of the anarchist group, he thinks “And now he wanted me of all people, someone who had never believed in anything to become part of his stalwart band.” When he stands up for his Pakistani friend, he realises he does not want to be a part of the fringe group anymore.
The story also traces how different people are in search of their identities and their roots, be it Himmat or the character Kev-O that the author meets in London.
Himmat reflects, “London had changed me far too much. In the few short years that I had spent there, I had become a true émigré, an immigrant not of body, but of soul, of spirit, of self.”
The book examines stereotypes, gender and sexuality through a confessional tone. It also examines infatuation, falling in love, falling out of love, and explores the concept of manhood as defined by society. The story is about moving on, disappointment, disillusionment, and scars – Scars that nations inflict upon us, scars that history inflicts upon us, and scars that people inflict upon us.
The protagonist Himmat has led a chequered life replete with a spectrum of experiences from consuming drugs to being arrested. There are brief descriptions of self-harm and suicidal ideation.
Himmat tries so long to run away from the past but he realises that the only way to live in the present is to make peace with it and go back to his roots. He reflects on what it is to be a Punjabi and an Indian. The story is about brokenness and reclaiming the lost parts of one’s soul. It’s about releasing old memories and breaking free. It’s about hatred and forgiveness. The story highlights that sometimes one is a victim of circumstances and that every scar conceals a story. The characters leap off the page and the story deals with raw, visceral emotions.
The book is a bildungsroman, which is slated for an international release later this year.
Note: I received the ARC from The Himalayan Book Club. All opinions are honest and my own.