Category Archives: 2020 Partition Reads

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh Title: Train to Pakistan
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143065883
Genre: Literary Fiction, Partition Literature
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This was my third reading of Train to Pakistan, and every time I read it, there is an ache that seems to have gone but hasn’t. I grew up hearing some stories of the Partition from my grandparents, and at the end of each story, I would see vacant eyes, eyes that said a lot and yet did not want to go beyond what was said. The memory of it all would haunt them all their lives.

Train to Pakistan is perhaps the first book that comes to most minds when speaking of the partition of the country. If not the first, then at least second. The starkness, honesty, and empathy of the novel has spread over decades in terms of being relevant (sadly) and continues to do so.

The plot is about a fictional village named Mano Majra and its residents (Muslim and Sikh), and how they are caught up in the turmoil of Partition, how it affects their relationships and lives. It all starts when a train filled with the dead bodies of Sikhs and Hindus arrive in Mano Majra. Singh gives us this but doesn’t make it the centrepiece of the novel.

Train to Pakistan to me is all about human nature, its relation to religion, its connection with the concept of life and death, and how suddenly it is either each man for his own or coming together of people in times of crisis. What I loved the most about this novel (even in the third read) was that Singh never loses his grip on empathy. There is this sense of brotherhood, of community, and yet in the face of the larger event, people seem helpless. Or are they?

Train to Pakistan is about common people. It is about Government officials who will also use every trick in the book to get their way out. It is about religious extremism and the madness that comes along with it – the madness that will never stop following you.

The sad part is that it is relatable even today – in an India of seventy-three years of independence. It is relevant when there are pogroms against the Muslims in Delhi, it is relevant when Godhra is mentioned, it is relevant when the memory of Mumbai riots of 1992 is evoked, it is relevant when mob lynching is spoken of, and it is relevant when people are killed basis what they eat, wear, look, and who they pray to.

Train to Pakistan was read by me as a part of my Partition Reads Project, of one book on the partition to be read every month. I believe that no matter how much it hurts to read such literature, we can never forget what happened, and in that process we heal – we remember and not forget that we need to be better humans – every single time.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar Title: The Radiance of A Thousand Suns
Author: Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353029654
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

As we live, and continue living, as days merge into months, and months into years, we realise that life perhaps is nothing but a collection of burdens. Of guilt we carry. Of so many lives lived in this one life, that every instance, every incident, every moment of joy seems like it happened in a different life, and tragedy always seems nearer – close at hand – to envelope us inside it, any given time.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar was read merely by chance. I hadn’t planned on reading it this month. It wasn’t on the list. But lists change, evolve, and you are only grateful that you read something so utterly heartbreaking, and a book that even manages to make you want to let go of all the weight you carry.

So, where do I start with talking about the plot? It is about the Partition of India, it is about the Anti-Sikh riots, it is about how we love and empathise, and how we lose the ones we love, and how they always remain, no matter what. What is it about? It is about Niki’s determination to complete her dead father’s unfinished book, taking her to Manhattan to uncover the story of an immigrant woman. It is about Dadima and her story. It is the story of Nooran and how she became an integral part of Niki’s life.

The blurb of this book also calls it a literary thriller, which to me is doing the book gross injustice. It is poetic and beautiful, and also brutal at times. Sodhi Someshwar doesn’t hesitate to talk about uncomfortable things – about people who lost their lives during the Partition and then the pogrom of 1984. She will rip the band-aid and not with remorse. The book is about the lives of women when pogroms such as these ruin everything in their wake. It is about generations of women that have had to suffer in silence because men decided that a pogrom or a partition would be a good idea to exact revenge.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns is about stories we tell ourselves in order to go on from one day to the next. The book is about resilience and Manreet’s writing is wondrous – from page to page. The characters are people you know – or someone from your family would, if we dig deep. The book struck a chord because the pain could be felt right through the pages. I was constantly reminded of how easily we forget our painful pasts – whether it is the Partition or the ’84 pogrom, or Godhra, or Mumbai blasts – each incident forgotten in the name of carrying on. Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, we need to acknowledge what has happened, and not let anyone forget it, in order to truly move on.

What I loved was also the quite apparent interspersing of The Mahabharata as an epic – its flaws, its shortcomings, and to connect those incidents to the plot and move it forward.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns does more than tug at the heartstrings. It constantly reminds you, with every turn of the page, what humans do to other humans, mainly in the name of land, religion, and a heightened false sense of laying claim to everything in sight.

Chhotu: A Tale of Partition and Love by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi

Chhotu - A Tale of Partition and Love by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi Title: Chhotu: A Tale of Partition and Love
Author: Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi
Publisher: Penguin eBury Press
ISBN: 978-0143446149
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

There are times when you somehow expect so much from a book that even if it disappoints you a little, you tend to take it personally. I understand that sentiment, but do not go by that alone. Look at the book in its totality. Chhotu for sure didn’t live up to my expectations but I loved the premise of it being set in the time of Partition and added to that the angle of love, and more than anything else, taking a page of Maus and reimagining characters as animals. Full points on also Indianizing it.

The book is set in Chandni Chowk and that to a very large extent got me all excited about it, just that I couldn’t empathise or relate to any character. I could see where the story was going. I know most of it. We have heard the same story from our grandparents and what they had to go through during the Partition in one way or the other – of strife, of loss, of not knowing what is going to happen next to them in a country now divided. I saw all of this coming and yet I somehow couldn’t empathise with what was going on.

I was expecting a lot. I wanted more to happen but it didn’t. I liked how the book was structured with famous Hindi song titles as the chapter names and that worked given what was happening in the chapter. The concept is good and would definitely recommend it to people who want to start reading about the Partition. A very good place to start from.