Member Amarjit Pannu’s novel is a love story set during India’s struggle for independence [Interview]
Author Amarjit Pannu will be the featured member at our October 17th meeting. Mark your calendars!
Amarjit Pannu’s book Splintered Waters: Tryst with Destiny was published in March of this year by Austin Macauley Publishers of London, Cambridge, New York, and Sharjah. She will be the featured member at the Sunday October 17th meeting, so mark your calendars. While Splintered Waters is her English-language debut in fiction, she has published two widely acclaimed books of short stories in Punjabi. I’ve lightly edited her responses to my questions.
The title of your debut novel written in English is Splintered Waters: Tryst With Destiny. What does this title mean to you, and what do you hope readers will understand about it?
Splintered Waters: Tryst with destiny is a historical fiction novel about the British Raj in India. When India secured independence from Britain after almost 200 years of occupation, the British did not simply leave the country. They split the province of Punjab in two: Indian Punjab and a new country, Pakistan. The five rivers of the fertile land of Punjab were also severed, two and a half for each side, hence the first part of the title, Splintered Waters.
The partition created great turmoil, including genocidal massacres and mass migration. This is when Nehru made a famous speech: “Long ago India made a tryst with destiny… at the midnight hour when the world sleeps India will wake to life and freedom….” In the context of millions being killed and thousands of women abducted, the repeated radio blasting of Nehru’s speech— “India will wake to life”—was cruelly ironic.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on my next novel, I Tell This Tale to the River, a sequel to the Splintered Waters: Tryst with Destiny. It is about a young woman, abducted a few days before her wedding to the love of her life.
You write in both English and Punjabi, sometimes working on projects in each language during the same time period. What are some of the challenges you faced writing in two languages?
I can think in both languages. In the beginning, while writing in Punjabi, the word I needed would come to mind in English, but to keep the pace, I’d write it in English for the time being and change it into Punjabi while reading the piece later. Similarly, while writing in English, I had to substitute a Punjabi word once in a while and switch it into English later on. After publishing two books of short stories in Punjabi and an enduring novel in English, along with some poetry, the problem has gone, not entirely, but almost. Over time, I think, I have learned to compartmentalize both languages while I write.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Splintered Waters: Tryst with Destiny?
The world knows about Gandhi, but this novel showcases the sacrifices of unsung heroes, including my grandfather, who gave their lives for freedom from the British.
Splintered Waters: Tryst with Destiny is a soul-touching story of love, the taboos of caste, and forbidden affairs; a gripping witness of unshakable friendship, the horrors of World War II, and the healing power of love; and an epic tale of the deep-seated human desire to be free of bondage.
What one piece of advice would you give to other writers?
Do not throw away anything you wrote, no matter how bad you think it is. Weeds can become manure!
What one thing has helped develop and promote your writing the most?
Being a member of various writers groups including Berkeley Writers Circle and CWC-BB