Burning
by Majumdar, Megha






An opportunistic gym teacher and a starry-eyed misfit find the realization of their ambitions tied to the downfall of an innocent Muslim girl who has been wrongly implicated in a terrorist attack. A first novel.





MEGHA MAJUMDAR was born and raised in Kolkata, India. She moved to the United States to attend college at Harvard University, followed by graduate school in social anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. She works as an editor at Catapult, and lives in New York City. A Burning is her first book. Follow her on Twitter @MeghaMaj and Instagram @megha.maj





*Starred Review* For the first time in her young life, Jivan has her own cellphone, which she bought with money earned by working as a shopgirl, having left high school after barely passing her tenth-form exams. After witnessing a gruesome train-station attack during her 15-minute walk home to the slums, she continues to follow events on Facebook. And then Jivan does "a foolish thing . . . a dangerous thing, immaturely hoping to multiply her 'likes' by responding to a post: if the police watched them die, . . . doesn't that mean that the government is also a terrorist?" Days later, Jivan has been beaten and jailed, accused of terrorism, effectively condemned without a trial. The two people who could possibly save her-a trans woman to whom Jivan was attempting to teach English, and her former PE teacher, who recognized her athletic prowess-have other priorities: dreams of film stardom for Lovely, a political future for PT Sir. Still holding on to her innocence, Jivan entrusts her story to a hungry journalist. Salvation seems possible, even narrowly so, over and over again, until it's not. Kolkata-born and Harvard- and Johns Hopkins-educated book editor Majumdar presents an electrifying debut that serves as a barometer measuring the seeming triviality of human life and the fragility of human connections. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.





A polyphonic novel that sharply observes class and religious divisions in India. Shaken by a terrorist attack that sets train cars ablaze and kills more than a hundred people, Jivan, a young Muslim woman living in the nearby Kolabagan slum, posts a careless comment lambasting the government on Facebook and is thrown in jail as a suspect for the attack. As her case becomes national news and the public is increasingly convinced of her guilt, Jivan works to prove her innocence by arranging clandestine conversations with a reporter. "Believe me when I say you must understand my childhood to know who I am, and why this is happening to me," she tells him. It was a youth marked by poverty, humiliation, and violence, often at the hands of local officials: Policemen wielding bamboo rods demolished her family's hut in a rural village, leaving her father with a debilitating injury, and the family was tricked into purchasing a plot in a dangerous slum. Meanwhile, as Jivan's trial nears, two of her acquaintances become witnesses: Lovely, a neighbor who learned English from Jivan, takes acting classes and dreams of becoming a film star while PT Sir, the physical training teacher at Jivan's old school, gets involved with the populist Jana Kalyan Party and performs a series of increasingly morally questionable acts to curry favor with its leader. Debut author Majumdar has a gift for capturing the frustrating arbitrariness of local government and conjures up scenes in just a few well-chosen images, like this lunch: "PT Sir looks at her, and her plate, where she has made a pile of fish bones, curved like miniature swords." Lovely, a hijra—a trans woman who lives in a religious community with others like her—is, voicewise, a particular gem. "My chest is a man's chest, and my breasts are made of rags. So what? Find me another woman in this whole city as truly woman as me." But Jivan's storyline feels a bit thin, seemingly purpose-built to make a point about the very real injustices of being poor and a member of a hated religious min o rity. The novel's brilliant individual vignettes far outshine a rather flimsy overarching plot. Copyright Kirkus 2020 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.





JIVAN
 
&;You smell like smoke,&; my mother said to me.
 
So I rubbed an oval of soap in my hair and poured a whole bucket of water on myself before a neighbor complained that I was wasting the morning supply.
 
There was a curfew that day. On the main street, a police jeep would creep by every half hour. Daily-wage laborers, compelled to work, would come home with arms raised to show they had no weapons.
 
In bed, my wet hair spread on the pillow, I picked up my new phone&;purchased with my own salary, screen guard still attached.
 
On Facebook, there was only one conversation.
 
These terrorists attacked the wrong neighborhood #KolabaganTrainAttack #Undefeated

Friends, if you have fifty rupees, skip your samosas today and donate to&;
 
The more I scrolled, the more Facebook unrolled.
 
This news clip exclusively from 24 Hours shows how&;
 
Candlelight vigil at&;

The night before, I had been at the railway station, no more than a fifteen-minute walk from my house. I ought to have seen the men who stole up to the open windows and threw flaming torches into the halted train. But all I saw were carriages, burning, their doors locked from the outside and dangerously hot. The fire spread to huts bordering the station, smoke filling the chests of those who lived there. More than a hundred people died. The government promised compensation to the families of the dead&;eighty thousand rupees!&;which, well, the government promises many things.
 
In a video, to the dozen microphones thrust at his chin, the chief minister was saying, &;Let the authorities investigate.&; Somebody had spliced this comment with a video of policemen scratching their heads. It made me laugh.
 
I admired these strangers on Facebook who said anything they wanted to. They were not afraid of making jokes. Whether it was about the police or the ministers, they had their fun, and wasn&;t that freedom? I hoped that after a few more salary slips, after I rose to be a senior sales clerk of Pantaloons, I would be free in that way too.
 
Then, in a video clip further down the page, a woman came forward, her hair flying, her nose running a wet trail down to her lips, her eyes red. She was standing on the sloping platform of our small railway station. Into the microphone she screamed: &;There was a jeep full of policemen right there. Ask them why they stood around and watched while my husband burned. He tried to open the door and save my daughter. He tried and tried.&;
 
I shared that video. I added a caption.
 
Policemen paid by the government watched and did nothing while this innocent woman lost everything, I wrote.
 
I laid the phone next to my head, and dozed. The heat brought sleep to my eyes. When I checked my phone next, there were only two likes. A half hour later, still two likes.
 
Then a woman, I don&;t know who, commented on my post, How do you know this person is not faking it? Maybe she wants attention!
 
I sat up. Was I friends with this person? In her profile picture she was posing in a bathroom.

Did you even watch the video? I replied.
 
The words of the heartless woman drifted in my mind. I was irritated by her, but there was excitement too. This was not the frustration of no water in the municipal pump or power cut on the hottest night. Wasn&;t this a kind of leisure dressed up as agitation?
 
For me, the day was a holiday, after all. My mother was cooking fish so small we would eat them bones and tail. My father was taking in the sun, his back pain eased.
 
Under my thumb, I watched post after post about the train attack earn fifty likes, a hundred likes, three hundred likes. Nobody liked my reply.
 
And then, in the small, glowing screen, I wrote a foolish thing. I wrote a dangerous thing, a thing nobody like me should ever think, let alone write.
 
Forgive me, Ma.
 
If the police didn&;t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn&;t that mean, I wrote on Facebook, that the government is also a terrorist?
 
Outside the door, a man slowly pedaled his rickshaw, the only passenger his child, the horn going paw paw for her glee.






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