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Here’s a list of books on Partition written by women authors, both fiction and non-fiction, and give an unusual insight into this regrettable event in our recent history.
Partition, being one of the most noxious incident in the history of the country was when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan. It is also one of the largest migration that took place in the history of the world.
Some of us have heard the stories from our grandparents, or seen in movies, or read in books on Partition; and even after three generations passing by, talk of Partition can still send chills down the spine. Thousands of people migrated from both the directions, while thousands never made it to their destination as communities who had co-existed for thousands of years together started attacking each other. Partition displaced fifteen million people and killed more than a million. Women were abducted and raped. They were also killed by their own families to save their honour from the later humiliation of abduction and rape.
Many accounts have been written and presented through books on Partition, movies, documentaries etc. Books on Partition, especially those written by people who have actually gone through it, or by those to whom they have narrated their stories, or even by students of the Partition, are an important source for these accounts. These books on Partition make it available to future generations, as do the movies and documentaries.
These 7 books on Partition gives an insight into personal struggles and adversaries of women during Partition. With their powerful narration they all make up for excellent read.
Amrita Pritam. Fiction.
Pinjar, written by Amrita Pritam is the story of Puro, a Hindu girl who gets abducted by a Muslim man, Rashid. While she manages to run from Rashid’s house, her parents refuse to accept her.
Puro’s story is a symbol of women’s endurance during the Partition through no fault of their own. Amrita Pritam puts heart and life into her characters, the guilt-tinged love of Rashid and the self loathing of Puro are all eminently human. Pinjar was also made into a Bollywood movie, starring Urmila Matondkar and Manoj Vajpayee. The film won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration.
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Urvashi Butalia. Non-fiction.
In this book Urvashi Butalia puts forth accounts of the people, especially women, who lived through Partition.
We have heard about the statistics and broad facts of the event but little is known about the personal experiences and struggles. Urvashi Butalia fills this gap through her book. Through interviews conducted over a ten-year period and an examination of diaries, letters, memoirs, and parliamentary documents, she presents a bold first hand narrative of the women whose voices and stories have remained silent so far. She has collected memories, with all of the pros and cons of those, told by women who survived this human catastrophe, along with enough didactic history to allow those with inadequate knowledge of the standard history to understand.
To get a peek into honest, personal stories and struggles of these survivors, Urvashi’s book is a must-read.
Bapsi Sidhwa. Fiction.
Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice Candy Man narrates the story of a young Parsee girl named Lenny Sethi, so that the story is told from a neutral point of view, instead of Hindu-Muslim one. The child observes the events happening around her, she innocently listens to the political discussions, sees neighbours turning against each other, and witnesses the changing world around her. The book covers violence committed by both the religions, while her Ayah getting carried away by a Muslim mob shows atrocities committed by one religion; Ranna’s story, a Muslim boy who loses his family and home in violence and finds himself alone in the world displays commission of barbaric acts by another.
Lenny’s experiences gives one an honest account of people during Partition, and in the end gives a message of how love and kindness can still triumph above all. Bapsi’s story is one of the best coming of age stories, especially among books on Partition.
Anita Desai. Fiction.
Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai is a story of a middle-class Bengali family set on the backdrop of Partition. The narrative moves back and forth between to the tragic events of 1948 and to present day, to show how those events have influenced the relationship between family members today.
Desai describes the novel as “a four-dimensional piece on how a family moves backwards and forwards in a period of time.” Accordingly, the novel is also divided into four parts. The story starts in the present showing tensions between the siblings. Through the interplay of memory and introspection, its a powerful narration about a family who gets affected by Partition.
Yasmin Khan. Non-fiction.
Yasmin Khan’s book on Partition examines the context, execution, and aftermath of Partition, weaving together local politics and ordinary lives with the larger political forces at play. The book covers the tumultuous years from the end of second world war in 1945 to the decolonisation and the formation of two new Nation-States.
Yasmin Khan contends that events of partition cannot be understood unless the war’s impact on India is assessed. She focuses on the collapse of British authority, the confusion and uncertainty that prevailed everywhere, and how the Partition played out on the ground and what it meant to the people. The role played by the party propaganda and the nationalist and fascist militias, and how they were at the forefront of the events is very well chronicled. Her strong ground up approach towards Partition makes for a compelling read.
Shauna Singh Baldwin. Fiction.
What the Body Remembers is Shauna Singh Baldwin’s debut novel. Shauna splendidly writes about the rich culture of India and the brutal drama of the 1947 Partition. The book gives an insight on a Sikh family caught in this, and has real, flawed, very human characters.
The two protagonists in Shauna’s book are two women married to the same man, Sardarji. There is a struggle between the two ladies on the backdrop of the changing political atmosphere. Roop, Sardarji’s second wife remarkably and marvellously grows over the course of time. What the Body Remembers is a heartbreaking but transcendent book, and the reader is left somber but hopeful by this beautifully told story.
Anam Zakaria. Non-fiction.
Anam Zakaria’s The Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians, is an honest account of people of Pakistan and some of India, over four generations. The book attempts to understand how the perception of the ‘other’ has evolved over the years after the Partition.
The book is divided into four parts, ‘Azad Qaidis’, ‘When Home is Elsewhere’, ‘A Museum of Memories’ and ‘Bharat se Rishta kya?’, each representing the experiences and political attitudes of successive generations. Anam Zakaria remarks on certain occasions how it is sad how the great event has been mythologised, romanticised, rewritten in sand and has taken absurd forms. However, she is also careful to not make any tall claims, and displays remarkable self-awareness when dealing with her subjects. The book is must-read for the extraordinary idea and central thesis of the book that an impersonal, fact-based approach to understanding Partition is not enough, rather it needs to be understood in continuity with our present-day political fantasies.
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