A Burning by Megha Majumdar is an electrifying debut novel about three unforgettable characters who seek to rise to the middle class, to political power, to fame in the movies.
One is Jivan, a Muslim girl from the slums accused of executing a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless comment on Facebook. The second is PT Sir, an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, only to find his own ascent linked to Jivan’s fall. And the third is Lovely, an irresistible outcast who has an alibi that can set Jivan free-but at the cost of everything she holds dear.
The excerpt below marks the starting moment of the adversity Jivan will face, as well as, the beginning of understanding lovely’s life.
A hand reached out of the dark and dragged me up in my nightie. I screamed and fought, believing it was a man come to do what men do. But it was a policewoman.
My father, on the floor his throat dry and his painful back rigid, mewled. Nighttime turned him into a child.
Then I was in the back of a police van, watching through the wire mesh a view of roads glowing orange under streetlamps. I exhausted myself appealing to the policewoman sitting in front of me: “Sister, what is happening? I am a working girl. I work at Pantaloons. I have nothing to do with the police!”
They said nothing. Now and then a crackle came from the radio on the dashboard, far in front. At some point, a car filled with boys sped by, and I heard whooping and cheering. They were coming from a nightclub. The doddering police van meant nothing to these boys. They did not slow down. They were not afraid. Their fathers knew police commissioners and members of the legislature, figures who were capable of making all problems disappear. And me, how would I get out of this? Whom did I know?
At night, after the acting class, I am lying in bed with Azad, my husband, my businessman who is buying and reselling Sansung electronics and Tony Hilfiger wristwatches from Chinese ships docking on Diamond Harbor. I am showing him my practice video from the day’s class, and now he is saying, “I have been telling you for hundred years! You have star material in you!” He is pinching my cheek, and I am laughing even though it is hurting. I am feeling peaceful, like this thin mattress on the floor is our own luxury five-star hotel bed. In this room I am having everything I am needing. A jar of drinking water, some dishes, a small kerosene stove, and a shelf of my clothes and jewelry. On the wall, giving me their blessings everyday, are Priyanka Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan. When I am looking around, I am seeing their beautiful faces, and some of their good fortune is sprinkling down on me.
“Azad,” I am saying this night. My face is close to his face, like we are in a romantic scene in a blockbuster. “Promise you will not get angry if I am telling you something?”
I am taking a moment to look at his face, dark and gray. Some long hairs in his eyebrows are trying to make an escape. I am having difficulty looking eye to eye for these hard words.
“Aren’t you thinking,” I am saying finally, “about a family and all? We are not so young–”
Azad is starting to talk over me like always. “Again?” is he saying. I am knowing that he is annoyed. “Was my brother coming here?”
“Was my brother putting this rubbish in your head?”
“No, I am telling you!”
Why Azad is always accusing me of such things?
A Burning has been so masterfully compressed that it can be read in a single sitting to reveal how Jivan deals with the mounts of challenges coming her way. Continue to see how two other integral characters – PT Sir and Lovely – weave their way into the heart of the story in an unprecedented, yet vital manner that will leave you wanting more.