Ours was a common, mundane,
A spurt of bloodshed,
That have been written of before
And will be written of again. – Neeru Nanda
When we think about Partition we can only leave it to our imagination to think about the mass massacre and those who survived it. The stroke of midnight hour turned into tumultuous times that were to follow the abrupt division of a huge nation of the subcontinent. There was hardly any or possibly no precautionary steps taken by the either governments. And neither did the Britishers, who ruled the nation for over 100 years, gave any thought to the consequences that would follow the partition. Approaximately 200,000 to two million were said to have died in this migration and communal riots. We have heard about this before in our history books, we have seen it in movies and we have read post-independence era literature which is speaks about Partition. And despite having read and reread it, Bloomsbury India’s From Quetta To Delhi A Partition Story by Reena Nanda leaves us surprised.
I usually read 100 pages in a day and to read a book with 170 pages in a single sitting isn’t new to me. But when I started reading this book, it struck a chord with me and I wanted to be a part of that pre-independence ambiance for long. I stayed with it for 3 days as if living a life with Shakunt and her family.
The book is an engaging, intriguing, riveting non fiction which will keep you hooked till the last line. Rather, the last few lines will make you ponder. While reading it I was brimming with feelings which I would want to express in my review. This book kept giving me Amrita Pritam-ish vibes. Those that I got while reading Pinjar.
The author’s language is lucid and freely flowing. With much ease and elegance the author takes us to the lanes of Jhang and the localities of Quetta. She introduces us to the Punjabiyat which is fast becoming extinct in the urbane India. The multilingual communal existence which was pride worthy trait of Eastern Punjab was introduced so subtly by Nanda that one could feel the affable nature of the Pathans, Hindus, Sikhs, Sindhis of the time. From the times of Lalaji to Maanji and then following the youthful life of her mother, Shakunt, Nanda took me on a beautiful sojourn.
For a Bollywood buff like me Punjabi is synonymous to Bollywood and my love for the language comes from there. This book is peppered with Punjabi verses which makes it all the more interesting. Not only that it gives us the history of Punjabi language, folks, customs and traditions at regular intervals. For instance, the oft repeated song “Lathe di chaddar,” has a beautiful history which the author spells in her work. There are other songs that are sung by kids or women like “Kikli Kalir Di” which we have heard before but could never understand the meaning behind it. The book was like a guide to me in this regards. And adding more to the language are the words like “mulk” and “quam” which are quintessential part of post-independence writing.
As an inquisitive child I once asked my Sindhi neighbour as to where her native place is. Without speaking a word she showed me her school book which read Pakistan in the native column section. I couldn’t understand why she was in India when her native was in Pakistan. Why didn’t she or her family ever watch cricket match, especially that which was between India versus Pakistan. As years wore on, I realized that it was a sensitive topic of discussion for my Sindhi friends and family. I stopped asking anything related to their native. But I got most of my answers from this book. It felt great to read about such a beautiful heritage.
This book is like it’s counterparts, (the books based on post-independence era) and beautifully traverses to the lands that now belong to the “others” but it also has a lot more to offer. The on-going conflict in Balochistan and the acceptance of the Balochs of their Indian roots, hoisting of Indian flag, support extended to Modi government make this book’s release well timed. It makes it necessary for us to read about that part of India which is less spoken of. We know that most of the Pathans, even Hindu Pathans, who form a major part of Bollywood, are from N.W.F.P but we get to know the province that it was closely in this book.
Overall, it is a feel good nonfiction despite being a partition story. The characters, the settings, the language, the affinity with which it is written makes me want to recommend it to every Indian reader.
Publishers: Bloomsbury India
Available on: Amazon, Flipkart, In-store