The Year of the Runaways tracks one year in the lives of three Indian immigrants in England – Randeep, Avtar and Tochi – all from varying backgrounds and all of questionable legal status in their new home. Randeep is the wealthiest of the three, the son of a disturbed government employee, Avtar is the son of the owner of a shawl shop and Tochi is a chamaar– one of the untouchable strata of society.
This is a story of failure and hope. Sahota documents the series of events which bring the three together, and the individual challenges facing them all. Randeep’s struggle is in learning to be independent and standing up for himself – having the courage to be alone and to solve his own problems instead of helplessly relying on others. He is juxtaposed against the other two main characters as well as the probable alcoholic Gurpreet, who taunts him about his rich background. He is in the UK on a marriage visa – and his bride poses her own set of challenges. Avtar’s struggle is to make himself into something so that he has the chance to marry the love of his life, and to pay off the huge loan he has taken from a man who has his thug-like family doing collections for him. He works two jobs to make ends meet. Tochi’s struggle is to overcome the stigma of his caste and to learn to feel again. Devastated by the tragedies of his past, and all that he has had to let go of, he must do what he can to survive as a completely illegal immigrant in his new home.
The amount of desperation in these boys to change their circumstances is palpable. It is a story about failure and survival against all odds. No matter what comes their way, these boys pick themselves up, broken as they are, and try something new. That persistence and resilience, even in the weakest of them – Randeep – is what makes this story so incredibly human. At the end of the day no matter what happens to us in our lives, there is always a way forward, and this story illustrates that through these three boys.
The following phrase from one of Tochi’s sections really captures this aptly:
“He thought again of that place called Kanyakumari. The place of ends and oceans. It seemed amazing to him that there could be an end to India, one you could point to and identify and work towards. That things needn’t go on as they are forever.”
There is truth in this. Things needn’t go on as they are forever. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, always a hope for something better.
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota was first published in June 2015. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015. This book was reviewed by Mira Saraf for IWI.*
All the opinions stated herein are of the reviewer and Incredible Women of India does not conform to the same.
– By Mira Saraf, for IWI*
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