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2 Burnside Mystery- A to Z

Witness the Night


Witness the Night Cover

ISBN13: 9780143120971
ISBN10: 0143120972
All Product Details

Only 2 left in stock at $7.98!




My eyes snap open and I stare at the ceiling. I look at the clock—3 a.m. The occasional flash of a passing car lights up the room. It is quiet, as only Jullundur can be quiet. After all those years of terrorism, when bomb blasts used to light up the night, now it is only car headlights. I reach for a cigarette. The pleasures of not sharing a room are many. You can fart in bed, and you can smoke without asking, ‘May I?’ I look across the chintz printed bed sheets and imagine The Last Boyfriend sprawled there. Hairy, fat, rich. Better than bald, thin and poor. But unbearably attached to his ‘Mummyji’.

Funny thing, this umbilical cord. If you’re female, they can’t wait to snip it off. But for boys, Mummyji’s breasts drip milk like honey dew. I watched Boyfriend squirm with delight under Mummyji’s gaze, as he piled on his millions in stocks and shares. With the ever increasing millions, and the solitaires glittering ever so brightly, why would she want a daughter-in-law dark and khadiclad like me? I gently exhaled and blew Boyfriend away.

I can still hear Mummyji’s shocked voice, the solitaires shaking in opprobrium: ‘Simran, you are a sardarni, a Sikhni, and you smoke!’

I settle down on the bed more comfortably, lolling over the side where Boyfriend would have lain. The Punjab police guest house room smells of smoke. They say that once smoke enters the air conditioning ducts, it keeps circulating there for years. Just like my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, of not being able to erase a single detail from my mind.

Playing it over and over again. Like smoke it filters through my mind. The girl. The remand home. The theory I have, which is both a hypothesis and a nightmare. The scenario I have examined over and over in my mind for three months. The only part that makes me uneasy is my inability to put the pieces together. Was there a man, an outsider? The girl denies it—but she had obviously been raped. Or was it murder in self-defence? Did she kill anyone? Did her brother or her father try to molest her? When they found her, she was covered with so many wounds and so much blood—her own as well as that of, perhaps thirteen other people—that it was difficult to find out what had happened. And then, she could hardly speak. She was in hospital for three months and has just been shifted to a room near the jail, in judicial custody.

It worries me. Something tells me instinctively that the evidence is too obvious. From experience I know we have to redefine the boundaries—push away the walls that block us. As a professional but unsalaried social worker, rudely called an NGO-wali (and a rather amateur psychiatrist), I am shocked to find this poor traumatized fourteen-year-old orphan. In the last twenty-five miserable years I haven’t seen a more sorrowful sight. I look through my notes, reading how every single member of her family had been poisoned and some of the victims stabbed with a knife. Since there was no other evidence or fingerprints, she is the chief suspect, and under investigation. Once the police have finalized their case, she could, of course, be under trial for years, as few cases in India ever come to the courts before at least twenty years. By that time she would be thirty four years old and would probably be immune to any sort of reform and, if she isn’t already, a murderess as well.

I light another cigarette. Shit, the electricity has just gone off. Why does anyone bother to live in this corrupt country? They screw you if you don’t pay your taxes, but you can’t do anything to them once you elect the damn ministers who live in palatial electric splendour while the rest of us scrounge around for a scrap of light. In full technicolour memory is a recent wedding: my mother’s best friend’s daughter married the son of a Minister in the Central Cabinet with Independent Charge. The wedding venue was lit up as though to guide a NASA spaceship to earth. The twenty lakh rupees spent on hiring generators for the various hotels and houses could have kept several hundred ordinary homes blazing with lights for a few years at least. My mother was moved to tears, of happiness of course, that her friend’s daughter was being given away in a blaze of glory. She always said that if you have it, flaunt it. It was a long-standing Punjabi tradition in her family.

I fumble around and find a candle, then go back through my notes about the ‘case’ as I still think about it. Sweat trickles down my back. It is obvious that no one actually cared about Durga. Were it not for her large inheritance, the ‘case’ may not even have attracted the kind of publicity that it had. Perhaps the publicity would force an early decision?

I know what makes me uncomfortable—the danger of accepting the more obvious and easy explanations. I know, to my constant regret, that we sometimes take those options. We could be tired and exhausted, the so-called criminal might not co-operate, the victim’s family could be much more rigorous and demanding. Or influential and demanding. Yes, the justice system has been known to give up, and the wrong person ends up being convicted. If there is a conviction at all.

But of course, these days high-profile cases call forth candlelight vigils and activist journalism. Not that it helps, because thanks to mass vigilantism the courts are being pressurized into taking popular decisions. Democracy drives everything, you can even vote to hang someone today.

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mudnsunshine, July 29, 2013 (view all comments by mudnsunshine)
This book and its characters stayed with me much longer than most. I am eager to read more from this writer, especially more featuring the social worker Simran. I found her and the young victim/criminal to be real, engaging and interesting. The Publishers Weekly reviewer must have been in a bad mood that day.
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Product Details

Desai, Kishwar
Penguin Books
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Mass Market
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
7.75 x 5.08 x 0.71 in 0.42 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Debut Fiction
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Suspense

Witness the Night Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.98 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Penguin Books - English 9780143120971 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Simran Singh is a middle-aged, unmarried social worker, who has returned to her Punjabi hometown in hopes of helping 14-year-old Durga, who stands accused of murdering 13 members of her family. Simran works hard to buck the stereotypes of Indian women, which is noble if not awfully tiresome for the reader, who is reminded every few pages of her smoking, drinking, and unlikely marital status. Then there's Durga, a possible lesbian who, growing up, had sexual encounters with her older sister, and who is similarly so busy refusing compartmentalization that she fails to become a real human character. While Desai's valiant attempts to renounce police corruption, female infanticide, and general misogyny should not be dismissed, Simran's running inner monologue relentlessly echoes this agenda: 'When I think there has been a miscarriage of justice, I get into the system, meet everyone, represent no one, and try and get to the truth.' Though suspense builds over the course of the novel, when the truth surfaces, it's so implausible that it's hard to care. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , “A thought-provoking tale.”
"Review" by , “Riveting, slow-burn murder mystery in which the new and the old India collide head on, as Desai's ballsy, maverick, and thoroughly modern heroine, Simran Singh, reveals a shocking twist on one of India's ugliest traditions.”
"Review" by , “We were thrilled and exhilarated by this stunning debut. Just like her feisty main character, Desai has fearlessly blown the lid on the problems that simmer under the surface of modern-day India.”
"Review" by , Witness the Night is an important novel with a compelling mystery at its heart. Simran Singh, in particular, is a terrific protagonist — the perfect guide on what is a dark and unsettling journey. Desai deserves a wide readership to go with the accolades she has already accumulated. This is a novel of genuine accomplishment.”
"Synopsis" by , In a small town in the heart of India, a young girl is found tied to a bed inside a townhouse where thirteen people lie dead. The girl is alive, but she has been beaten and abused. She is held in the local prison, awaiting interrogation for the murders she is believed by the local people to have committed. Visiting social worker Simran attempts to break through the girl's mute trance to find out what happened that terrible night. As she uncovers more and more, Simran realizes that she is caught in the middle of a terrifying reality, where the unwanted female offspring of families are routinely disposed of. Brilliantly atmospheric, hauntingly real, this is a major debut from an exciting new author.
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