“KNOW THAT FATE HAS A WAY TO MAKE YOU BEND TO ITS WILL“…. This hard- hitting dialogue from Sohan S Koonar’s novel, Paper Lions, published by Speaking Tiger Publications, is the perfect manifestation of this book. The story, spanning four decades in Punjab from pre to post Independent India, covers every twist that fate can possibly throw at the characters be it familial, casteism, political, modernization or even personal agony.
This saga is based on two main families – a Zaildar family which comes from old wealth and upholds its responsibility to the people and one which rises to political heights from nothing due to a reluctantly corrupt son in the army. Apart from Zaildar Ajit Singh and Minister Bikram Singh, the third character from whose point of view the book is presented is Bajigarni Basanti. Bajigars are colourful nomads who gradually settle down in the region. The phrase ‘paper lion’ means a person who appears to have power but is really ineffectual. Paper Lions is about the journey and personalities of the characters who are all paper lions before fate.
Good and bad characters might be strong but ‘grey’ characters are real! All of them have gone through their personal struggles, have faults or secrets and atone for their errors and fight their personal demons. Karma brings everyone to their knees. People live on but not without internal scars and heartache.
Does this mean that the book is depressing or sad? Not at all! There are happy moments and dreams but what resonates with the reader is that we are all paper lions in the end. We feel that we have power and control over our lives and others but it is just an illusion. We could all be Ajit Singh, Bikram Singh or Basanti – bowing down before family pressure, overcome by circumstances or giving in to temptation.
Paper Lions reflects the ingenuity of the author. It sinks its hooks into the reader from the first page and does not let go till the end. The vivid description that form a part of the narrative, help one mentally visualize and feel the being of the people instead of only reading about them. They feel like acquaintances and not strangers. We rejoice with them and feel their pain.
What is most invigorating about this book though is that you can change the era or setting but if the essence of the human personalities like greed, corruption, learning to live with what fate has doled out, relations based on love and not blood, sacrifice, heartache and overcoming odds is kept intact, it will be still be an exhilarating read with any background!
Read it and find out which character you most identify with…. don’t be surprised if it is more than one! That’s Paper Lions for you!