MISTAKEN IDENTITY by Nayantara Sahgal


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The privileged but aimless son of a minor Indian raja finds himself jailed for almost three years on a mistaken charge of treason; Sahgal (Rich Like Us, 1986) portrays some terrible and tragic events, but her gentle irony and the happy outcomes for many of the suffering characters result in a barbed fable of considerable humor and charm. Bhushan Singh's one great passion--a love affair with a Muslim girl--led to two bloody Hindu-Muslim riots and his banishment to America until the violence blew over. Upon his return to India, Singh has neither plans nor fears for the future: he's got a modern girlfriend in Bombay--he likes her because she's a Parsi and therefore outside his obsession with Hindu-Muslim relations; his one remaining enthusiasm is for Kemal Ataturk and his secularization of Turkey; and he looks forward to living a life of torpor in the family home at Vijaygarh. But it's 1929, a year of strikes and anticolonialist agitation: Singh is arrested On a baseless charge of treason and finds himself locked up with Communists and followers of Gandhi who distrust one another and find Singh an apolitical curiosity. Even his personal experience of colonial-rule injustice fails to radicalize him: Singh spends his imprisonment thinking about his past, entertaining his cellmates with stories of his life even as he observes them (and his lawyer) with a cynical eye. Crisply written, rich in Indian culture and history--which ultimately expresses an uncommon faith in the power of love to overcome political and sectarian divisions.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1989
ISBN: 8112-1093-6
Publisher: New Directions
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