It is the Cause

Buy book online
Buy book online Buy book online Buy book online

Witness the Night By  Kishwar DesaiPerhaps it’s what you hear that stops you first, a 14 year old girl found alive among the bloodstained corpses of 13 family members in a rambling farmhouse. So you begin to read with images of a book like We Need to Talk about Kevin in your mind. Could this possibly be the tale of a child serial killer? Kishwar’s Desai’s location is promising, the Punjab, not too far away in the imagination from Nithari, the place where so many women and children had been savagely murdered and where body parts appeared from the sewers.

Simran, a social worker is called in by the police to talk to the child, Durga and see whether she confesses to murder or has any light to throw on the case. Simran is single, self conscious about it and also self conscious about not taking any ‘hafta’ from the police – because she comes from a privileged background where her father slaved to make a fortune for the family. Simran tries not to make any signs of privilege apparent – she dresses down and ignores her mother’s frantic phone calls suggesting matches.  She is in fact an alcohol swilling “khadi-clad, NGO wali”

The book begins with the confusion inside Durga’s head, she has been assaulted and tied to a bed and she is too dazed to understand what is happening. It goes on to Simran’s own confusion about life and being a woman. Witness the Night takes time to settle down possibly because Desai needs to establish the background before she moves on.

Simran has been called in by the police to talk to Durga, but spends a lot of time rifling through the gossip of Jullunder society – which she is qualified to do since she studied there and was in fact in class with Arminder, wife of the high profile police official Ramnath who is in charge of the case. However Arminder being her schoolmate only deepens Simran’s confusion because there is a vicious undercurrent in the relationship between the two, the married woman triumphing over the unmarried one.

Desai’s text is simply told and as the investigation continues, the pages fly. Simran meets the beautiful green eyed Harpreetsir who tutored Durga and who seems to be different from the general run of Sikh men because he has a disfigured wife whom he rescued after her first husband’s family tortured her for not bringing adequate dowry along and the mystery deepens. It also becomes clear that someone – read the authorities – do not want her delving too deeply into the circumstances behind the crime.

“Royalties from the UK sales of the book are in fact being donated to Vishwas, an NGO which works with disabled children in India, specifically girl children.”

What Simran discovers is that there is a social issue at the heart of the whole thing, the issue of gendercide. Gendercide and honour killings among certain communities have spread from the Indian shores to the UK as well.   In the article in the Daily Mail Desai wrote:  ‘British Indian communities in this country are failing to produce the number of girl babies that science tells us to expect, which, broadly speaking, is 950 girls for every 1,000 boys. And how are they doing this? By pursuing a determined programme of sex selection’. It is obvious that Witness the Night was written to dramatise the issue in both countries and result in positive action, which is why social commentary and such an extreme case of multiple murders dominate the story. Royalties from the UK sales of the book are in fact being donated to Vishwas, an NGO which works with disabled children in India, specifically girl children.

The aim, in the end, is similar to that of Anita Nair’s “Lessons in Forgetting”, which also circled around a murder, but Desai uses the conventional murder mystery format. The format is successful, but not necessarily important to what the book has to say – and, as the alert reader might surmise this is the first of a series of Simran mysteries and Desai is already at work on a sequel..

“My book Witness the Night deals with many issues but of course, the main one is to treat men and women equally, to respect the rights of women, and to bring up girl children with love and care,” Desai said in an interview to one of the Indian papers. The 45 year old Simran, in fact represents this as she fights to be recognized with more success than Durga and her siblings.

, ,

Buy book online
Buy book online Buy book online Buy book online
Witness the Night
by Kishwar Desai

One Comment on "It is the Cause"


  1. Petrona 05/01/2011 at 15:50

    [...] The novel has also been reviewed at The Bookbag, Iris on Books, The Guardian (brief), and Curious Book Fans. …

Hi guest, please leave a comment:

Subscribe to Comments
Written by Anjana Basu