History… for better or for verse!
Aptly titled, here’s a book that unlocks history in a way that has never been done before!
Sonia Dogra sets the tone for her unusual choice of theme, right from the first verse, as she wonders if the world would be a different place, had Adolf Hitler been treated better as a child. She follows up on this train of thought with a rib-tickling tale about Cleopatra’s long nose, considered a parameter of female beauty at the time, and speculates if the Roman Empire would have had a different future had her nose been shorter!
From Muhammad Ali’s missing gold medal, to the unknown story of Milunka, the girl who dressed as a boy and became the most decorated woman soldier in the history of warfare, yet died penniless and unsung with only her medals standing testimony to her bravery and patriotism… Sonia paints canvas after canvas of events long-gone, on every page of her book with her lyrical brush… Each stroke bringing forth a dimension of the past, in a unique and entertaining manner.
Writing in verse-form, the author uses words and syntax that are simple enough to rivet the attention of a casual reader, yet powerful enough to bring alive the unknown and un-celebrated episodes of history from across the globe.
Sonia has carefully chosen the subject of each of her historical verses to cover a gamut of themes… chronicling the controversial and uncontroversial tales of bravery and deception, of pathos and anguish, before veering away to lighter moments talking of historical noses and beards!
The book is structured into two sections. The first, called ‘The Famous and the Infamous’, is where the author writes about personalities from the past, prying open their lives to understand the unknown stories behind their actions and decisions.
In Sergeant Major Gandhi, she tries to unravel the reasons behind the controversial support that the Mahatma lent to the British against the rebel tribes of S Africa.
In Entombed Mysteriously, she writes about how and why Gengis Khan “…was laid to rest at an unknown place, Those in the funeral procession slaughtered without trace.”
Interestingly, the author doesn’t limit her prowess of narrating historical tales to prominent figures. Consider for instance, the Mutiny of 1857. It would be sacrilege if any Indian worth his or her salt doesn’t know about the sacrifices made by Mangal Pandey and the other brave-hearts. But Sonia looks beyond the popular and the known, and uncovers the forgotten heroes, or should I say heroines, who stood shoulder to shoulder with the rest. Read about the Cawnpore Courtesans and their brave deeds, in my favorite verse, ‘The Dance of Rebellion’.
The second section of the book, ‘Epoch Making Episodes’ lets the reader peek into the trajectory of events that changed the world as we know it… Beginning with Radcliffe who hastily drew a line on the Indian map, and forever condemned the country to religious hatred, “leading to the biggest Human exodus”, and genocide… to how Fat Boy ‘tore through life’ and decimated an entire city, condemning the few survivors to a lifetime of physical and emotional pain… to tracing how history repeats itself in the poem ‘Quarantine’.
Tempted as I am to review each verse individually, I must restrain myself, if only to preserve the mystery of history for you… the reader. And I promise you, you will enjoy every bit of this book, whether or not you are a history aficionado!
For those, who have given a miss to their history classes in school, Sonia introduces each of her interesting and engaging verses with a brief write-up to place the event or anecdote in the course of history.
For the more serious reader, she has provided footnotes at the end of each verse to make it easy to refer and read further.
To sum it up, as I read Sonia Dogra’s volume of historical verses ‘Unlocked’, there was only one thought on my mind… ‘Reading history would have been so much fun, if someone had turned the events long lost in time into stories’!
An excellent book to add to your reading list, whether or not you have been a history fan.
A teacher and a reporter in her previous avatars, Sonia Dogra is perhaps at her best as an author who reflects on events, and pens them for her readers. This is her 3rd published book of poems.