Small Acts of Freedom by Gurmehar Kaur: Review

Title: Small Acts of Freedom

Author: Gurmehar Kaur

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 186; Price: Rs 299

That soldiers die protecting this nation, we know. That they die for an oath they swore to uphold, we know. That they have families, we know. But more often than not, we cannot comprehend the loss of those families. And so no, we don’t know anything. We don’t know why someone would willingly die for strangers, just because they are Indian too, who sometimes take their sacrifice for granted. We don’t know how much soldiers sacrifice on an everyday basis so that the rest of us may stay safe and have an every day to look forward do. We don’t know what we can do, if anything at all, to make things easier for their families after they are gone.

A touching story is one that lingers with you long after you have read it and the book has found a place on the shelf. It is one you find your mind wandering to when you have moved on to other things – work, social media, being out and about, or just sitting still. It is when you stay up at night a few extra moments wondering about those lives so far away from you, lives you have nothing to do with, but to which you owe something. Or is it that you owe everything?

Small Acts of Freedom is a telling of many things – of the struggles of three generations of women of a family deeply affected by wars energised by fear and hatred. Their lives changed because of the Partition, the Kargil War and the politics of nations. These are the stories we hear about fleetingly at most but don’t pay attention to for long after. Yet, these are stories we should care about – it is because of these heroes that we live free and safe.

Gurmehar Kaur’s story is that of a young girl trying to get a grip on what it means that her father is dead and that he’s never coming back. I wouldn’t say it’s a story of hope but more so a story of longing and loss, of finding strength to move forward. There’s no one incident that is more moving than another. Tears stinging your eyes and blurred words are a constant while reading this book; even though we know of the tragedy when we start reading, it is in the writing that the impact lies. Through recollections across generations, Gurmehar narrates instances in the lives of her grandmother, the mother and herself that weave into a portrait of the family. Each instance is a snippet of this larger canvas and follows an unusual but effective flow. It’s as though three parallel stories are moving forward together, and yet they remain incomplete without each other. We’ve probably read of the loss of adults in some form or the other, but reading of loss from a child’s perspective remains the core of this story, tugging at heartstrings and echoing within you in a primal way.

While I don’t want to give it too much attention for this review I can’t help but say this much – reading about the hate that Gurmehar received for participating in a peaceful protest had my blood boiling. Even more disheartening was the realisation that this is perhaps just one of the thousands of stories of the families of heroes who endure animosity when they should the recipients of gratitude. This is to call out those who throw words like ‘anti-national’ and ‘unpatriotic’ around like they were sand, without understanding the weight of those beliefs. How dare you misuse the ideal of sarfaroshi ki tammana ab hamare dil mein hai by being a cowardly bully. Put up or shut up!

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