Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's message on the eve of India's Independence was bittersweet. Our first prime minister spoke of hope, dreams and the pain that anguished millions who crossed the border.
The partition of India is considered to be the largest migration in the 20th century. Hordes of people went in search of a new home, and a few did not survive the journey and failed to witness two independent nations. Arguably, Independence Day is a reminder that violence, hatred and communalism can divide people when secular forces are not strong.
Indian writing in English is rich with novels that chronicle that violence and hope. Here is a list of novels that help understand the events that took place in 1947:
Train to Pakistan
Written by veteran journalist Khushwant Sigh, the novel depicts a village peopled by Sikhs and Muslims. The novel explores the violence that engulfed these two communities as a train carrying corpses stopped at this village.
Freedom at Midnight
"Freedom at Midnight" by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre is a compelling non-fiction narrative that documents events that took place in the last year of British Raj. The book contains a series of interviews and highlights the role of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah during the Indian Independence Movement. Collins and Lapierre's account of Lord Mountbatten is well researched, interesting and remains a rare historical account of the last viceroy.
Toba Tek Singh: Stories
Sadat Hasan Manto is one of the most widely read novelists of partition literature. His short stories on partition are heavy with irony, tragedy and human suffering. One of the best stories from his collection includes "Toba Tek Singh" in which a mentally challenged man dies in no man's land. The story ends with irony, as evidenced in this sentence: "There, behind barbed wire, was Hindustan. Here, behind the same kind of barbed wire, was Pakistan. In between, on that piece of ground that had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh."
Ice Candy Man
Bapsi Sidhwa's novel "Ice Candy Man" is told through the eyes of Lenny Sethi, a young Parsi girl in Lahore. Yenny's friendship with her Ayah and her encounter with the working class reveals the religious intolerance that sets communities apart during partition.
Salman Rushdie's books are complex, and "Midnight's Children" is no different. The novel is about Salim Sinai who is bestowed with magical powers for being born on the eve of August 15. The book's symbolism questions India's nationalist ideology in the aftermath of partition.
The Shadow Lines
Amitav Ghosh's touching account of partition is evidenced in Mayadebi's repetitive question, "Where is Dhaka?" The novel depicts the effects of partition among those who left Dhaka in search of a newer homeland. As Mayadebi travels from an independent India to Bangladesh, she is confused and alienated in a city that was once her home. The novel explores nationalism and national identity in post-colonial countries.