Fiction

A book that makes you rethink the past and reimagine the future

Medha Dutta Yadav | Updated on October 29, 2021

Lahore, the first part of a trilogy on the Partition, is a painful reminder of all that can go wrong when tinged with communal colours

1947. It is a year that is seared into the memory of two countries — one, the parent: India, and the other, the offspring: Pakistan. Writer Hilary Mantel once said: “Facts are not the truth but the record of what’s left on the record. It is up to the living to interpret those accounts.”

That is exactly what Manreet Sodhi Someshwar tries to achieve with the first part of her Partition Trilogy — Lahore. Unlike other books on the Partition, this fictional tale based on historical facts moves away from the central figures of Jinnah and Gandhi and trains its lens on Nehru and Patel. It also brings in lesser mortals and seamlessly merges their stories with the grand narrative of the architects of the destinies of the two nations. And in doing so, the vulnerabilities common to all are brought to the forefront and prove yet again how Partition is not just our past. It still resonates in our present and in no subtle way either.

Following an exploration of the events, exigencies and decisions that led to the Independence of India, the narrative is set in the months leading up to the Partition.

The book begins with Nehru and Patel debating the pros and cons of the British idea of Partition, and later actively negotiating with the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, to gain an upper hand on Jinnah and save the India of their dreams. Unfortunately, the dream remains incomplete and drenched in blood.

Backed by astute research, Lahore is a behind-the-scenes look into the political skulduggery that gave India its freedom. A freedom that came at the price of blood and mayhem that forever shattered the secular fragment of the nation and divided it into ‘us’ and ‘them’. The writing is reminiscent of the style of writers such as Krishna Sobti, Amrita Pritam, Khushwant Singh, Gulzar and more. Like them, the book shows how decisions made by men behind closed doors and under the sharpness of bloodthirsty swords, affect the women who bear the brunt of the carnage.

At the start of the book, you have people of all faiths living in harmony, but underneath one can sense the bubbling unrest. It lives just beneath the skin, till one day it ultimately spills forth and leads to masses losing all sense of right and wrong. As the country stumbles towards Independence and Partition, and leaders look to salvage the situation in the best possible way, common lives are exposed to the gory churn of events. Tension wafts through the corridors of power and poisons bonds between friends and lovers. What is praiseworthy is how Someshwar manages to rein in the raw emotions. Her deft writing saves the book from becoming a sloppy tale bordering on melodrama. Instead, the finer threads of human feeling are expertly woven into the painful historical context, giving us a peek into the larger calamity of how the heart and spirit of a people were forever broken, never to be pieced together again.

Lahore is a timely reminder of what hatred among brothers can do. In an age where differences, divisions and intolerance define our politics and actions, this book is relevant and important. It raises questions and makes you rethink the past and re-imagine the future in context.

Painted in vivid hues, the personal and the political together transport us to a time we have heard of often. A time which even 75 years on, is difficult to put behind us. Partition was not just a moment in history or an event that saw the largest migration ever and loss of lives; it was a time that changed the lives and destinies of millions.

Gripping and laced with pulsating emotions, it is a book worth reading. For those who know little of Partition and for those who relive the effects till this day, the book has space for both. While the division of India is the central theme, it also shows us how Lahore never really left India. From the delicate nuances of language and the memories embedded in the many stories, to the rich yearning in the shayari and ghazals, the city is ever-present like a shadow, quietly following us as we go about our lives more than seven decades later.

Inevitably, the book brings up emotions that even overwhelm those who never had a close brush with Partition. It is a painful read, yes, but it is a much-needed one. The book serves as a reminder of all that may go wrong when tinged with communal colours. As I turn the last page, I look forward to the remaining parts of the Trilogy, aptly named — Hyderabad and Kashmir. Given Someshwar’s painstaking research and rich storytelling, both the books promise to be emotionally-wrought pieces of wonderful writing.

(Medha Dutta Yadav is a Delhi-based journalist, and literary and art critic)

About the Book

Lahore: Book 1, The Partition Trilogy

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

HarperCollins India

328 pages; ₹499

Check out the book on Amazon here

Published on October 29, 2021

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