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KNOWN TURF by ZAIDI ANNIE Known Turf is a non-fiction account of journalist Annie Zaidi’s experiences as a journalist covering the smaller towns and villages in rural India. From meeting dacoits in Chambal to seeing severely malnourished and dying children in the Sahariya hamlets of Madhya Pradesh, Zaidi merges a reporter’s need for facts with a humane perception that’s her very own. It’s thrilling to read about bandits anywhere, especially when they happen to be from the dreaded gangs of Chambal in Madhya Pradesh. Annie Zaidi’s book opens on this exciting premise as she begins her quest of trying to find out the reason behind dacoit gangs originating in Chambal. It’s interesting to read how caste and oppression played a big role in turning many into dacoits and the ‘moral code’ some of the older dacoit gangs would abide by. If Zaidi manages to deconstruct the Chambal bandit with enough sympathy, she also has an eye for humour, seen often throughout her description of the Chambal area, where local buses come with the legend: Please do not carry loaded guns in the bus. Zaidi tackles malnutrition next and tries to make the reader empathize by giving an account of her night in a train when she went without food and a reserved berth. When she talks of malnutrition amongst the Sahariya tribe in MP, she mentions Lakshmi, the six-month-old baby with Grade IV malnutrition who weighed less than her handbag. It’s instances like these that make the problems seem more tangible and real for the reader, though Zaidi does have a tendency to go overboard with her emotions when describing crushing, desperate poverty.


There’s a lot of warmth, depth and empathy in her account of the weavers of Benares, whose craft has been edged out due to the rise in cheaper, machine made cloth and who now face poverty and starvation. Her story of the Dalits in Punjab has the ability to move and surprise, given the prosperous image of the state that we have in our minds. She talks of Bant Singh, a Dalit, who is beaten and maimed because he refuses to withdraw the case against his daughter’s rapists, who come from rich Jat families. Other stories from Punjab include women bonded into debt; the desire to move West by any method, often illegally, among the youth of the Doaba region. It comes across as a strange state, one where a landless Dalit labourer can be boycotted for demanding higher wages but where top industrialists can default on payments and rob the state of a staggering Rs. 286 crores, thanks to a cleverly manipulated scheme. Punjab, a state Zaidi covered for Frontline, forms the bulk of her writing for this book and can bust quite a few of your myths about the state, which seems riddled by caste problems. Zaidi touches not just those but also spiritual aspects like Sufism and the controversies of Deras. She then moves on to her own experience with religion. One of Zaidi’s best pieces is her description of growing up in a liberal Muslim household and having a Muslim ‘identity’ in today’s India. And if like Zaidi, you’ve moved from place to place, you’d probably identify with her search for a sense of belonging, for home. There are several other issues Zaidi tackles in the book, from female foeticide to eve-teasing and crimes against women. Zaidi, who is a part of Jasmeen Patheja's Blank Noise project, describes about dealing with harassment against women in cities she has lived like Delhi and Mumbai and tying it up to instances of women power in Uttarakhand. She talks of the Blank Noise project teaching her to stop being a silent victim to harassment on the streets, in trains and buses. Of breaking the self-made rules that we think will attract less attention and keep us safe. Of staring back and not letting fear stop us from doing things. The book ends with an account of Zaidi walking around and sitting on her own with a cup of coffee in the PVR Complex at Saket, Delhi, late at night. It's a simple act but familiar to any woman who has had to withstand stares, whistles and unwanted attention simply because she is in a public place and more importantly alone. Despite the change in topics that can sometimes be startling, what stands out throughout the book is Zaidi’s dedication to and empathy for her subjects, her lyrical monologues on some of the simpler things of life like Chai and her ability to see humour in the grimmest of situations. To know more about KNOWN TURF and read more reviews, simply logon to Justbooksclc, the best Online book library in Bangalore.


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