Megha Majumdar: The novelist discusses the politics of silence, questioning your idols, and the accumulation of shame

Madhuri Sastry in Guernica:

Megha Majumdar’s polyphonic debut novel, A Burning, follows the loosely intertwined lives of Jivan, Lovely, and PT Sir in Kolkata, during a time of rising Hindu Nationalist sentiment. Jivan, a Muslim girl, happens to be present at a train station during a terrorist attack that ends with a locomotive in flames. Soon after, she makes a Facebook comment critical of police inaction, and government’s consequent complicity in the deaths of innocent people. She writes: “If the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?” She is arrested and imprisoned for her “anti-national” comment, her religious identity serving as ostensibly irrefutable evidence of her disloyalty to the Indian state. Before her arrest, Jivan taught English to Lovely, a transgender woman with silver-screen dreams. Lovely has information that could exonerate Jivan, but her Bollywood dreams hinge on the role she will play in Jivan’strial. PT Sir, the Physical Education teacher at Jivan’s school who occasionally shares food with her out of pity, taps into political aspirations he didn’t even know he had, rising steadily through the Jana Kalyan Party ranks and accumulating power at great costs, including to Jivan.

Majumdar’s novel — and our conversation about it — centers on the oppressive nature of systemic marginalization, and how it affects individual existence and political participation.

More here.