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Annie Zaidi’s Prelude to a Riot

The book mirrors the society, showing us deeping communal fissures

Muskan Tyagi

“In a peaceful southern town, amidst lush spice plantations, trouble is brewing. In the town live three generations of two families, one Hindu and the other Muslim, whose lives will be changed forever by the coming violence.”

Prelude to a Riot

Annie Zaidi, an award-winning novelist and winner of the 2019 Nine Dots Prize for her essay “Bread, Cement, Cactus”, was recently nominated for the 2020 JCB Prize of Literature for her novel, Prelude to a Riot. It was published by Aleph Book Company and was released on September 1, 2019.

The author gives her perspective on the divided and uncertain times we’re living in while bearing witness to the current socio-political events, and uses her strength of storytelling to draw a parallel between societies today.

Zaidi paints a searing picture of how dormant tensions in a divided society can erupt into communal violence. The work on the book was started four years ago.

“I didn’t set out to write a novel,” she told First Draft. “I was travelling, my main interest was in wage labour and plantations”.

The novel is populated with remarkable characters.

Dada, the aging grandfather who loves to talk to his plants; his strong-willed grandchildren, Abu and Fareeda; newly married Devaki who can’t agree with her husband’s and father’s burning rage towards Muslims; Mariam, who works for both the families; Garuda, a high school teacher who tries to teach students the truth about the history behind two communities.

The rising communal tensions highlight the uncertainty in a society with a stereotypical nature to degrade and disrespect the Other.

In the novel, the author only mentions the characters name and describes the city but doesn’t mention the name.

“I think if you don’t name, it forces people to engage with the fact that these conversations are actually unfolding all around you,” she told First Draft. So I wanted people to think not about that place but every place.”

Zaidi also captures the anger, anxiety, and fear of the people from the town .

Prelude to a Riot analyses a critical current subject. It is a story of our times, where hatred is rampant. Each soliloquy leaves the reader with a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach.

Edited by Sakshi Jain & Jasmine Singh