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A country torn in two
Partitions - Amit Majmudar
Member Name: dee778
Partitions - Amit Majmudar
Advantages: Beautiful writing, engrossing plot
Disadvantages: Not a cheerful story!
Although I was aware of the partition of India in the most abstract sense, I had never really taken the time to understand the turmoil that such an event created. In 1947 India had just gained independence from the British Raj - a time that is popularly immortalised in England through the many films and books that have been created. After years of struggle, it was finally decided to divide India into two separate states; the Muslim majority to live in Pakistan and the Hindu majority to live in India. The reality of this division was that it created the largest mass migration in history, with some ten million people having to abandon their homes and relocate as the Muslims moved to the north of Pakistan and the Hindus moved to the southern area of India. Violence seemed to be a natural part of this schism, and over a million civilians died in the riots and fighting that ensued.
This book is a powerful dramatisation of that time, telling the story of partition by tracing the lives of four very different people as they make their lonely way across India to their new homes. Initially we meet two Hindu children; six year old twins Shankar and Keshev are trying to board the last train to Delhi when lose their mother in the tussling crowd. Injured and lost, they wind their way through India to Delhi, trying to find their mother as they go and encountering terrifying violence, weird obsession and great sadness.
Following them in spirit and guarding them from afar is their deceased father; a compassionate and wise doctor, he tells the reader their story piece by piece as he follows them, revealing the background of his own life as he does so. The tension and worry of the twins survival is mixed with a fascination as the reader gradually discovers the background to their parents marriage and the life they used to live.
Their late father, Roshan Jaity, sees more than his own boys' journey as he flies around over the revolting crowds. He chooses two other people to follow; Masud, the elderly doctor who once treated the twins when they were babies; and Simran, the innocent and modest Sikh girl who has every reason to fear the men who threaten her during her journey.
I found Masud one of the most empathic characters in the book; his dedication to his profession and his profound sadness at the terrible sights he sees around him ring absolutely true. Using the limited medical supplies in his black doctor's bag, Masud walks the dusty roads of India towards Pakistan and helps every wounded person he meets, regardless of their religion. Like a modern day martyr, he limps on with a wounded foot, followed by a gaggle of orphans and a pack of loyal but starving dogs. This little group of followers are devoted and protect him from the dangers of the road, but he marches on oblivious, healing, stitching wounds, offering advice.
The fourth character in this convoluted tale is Simran, the girl who has seen more trauma in her short life than anybody deserves. Through quick thinking she manages to escape dying at the hands of her father. The men of the family considered it preferable to murder all of the females to stop them being violated by the "Musselmaans" and they methodically carried out their gruesome task. Waking up soaked in the blood of her mother and sisters, she starts to walk towards a safe place, but there are male predators looking out for young girls like Simran, and the horrors ahead are everything that her father had feared.
This is obviously not a 'nice' story or one that is in any way easy to read. There is love and kindness, but it is matched by horror and cruelty. The story develops slowly as the four characters wind their way through the country and in and around each others' lives. The ending is ultimately satisfying for the reader, providing the emotional satisfaction of a story well told and an ending which is not exactly happy, but definitely not sad.
For me, it was the small details that brought the history to life; through the narrative device of using a dead man to tell the tale, the reader has access to the innermost thoughts of every character as well as being able to swoop quickly from one side of the country to another to follow the divergent stories.
Looking into the minds of the violent young thugs who kill and maim for pleasure; understanding the shame of Simran as her body is roughly revealed to a strange man; the humiliation of Masud as he finds himself squatting by the side of the road to defecate and having to use the pages of his medical journal to clean himself. All of this is a result of talented writing which connects the reader with the story in a very intense way.
Amit Majmudar is a radiologist who is primarily a poet rather than a novelist. This is his first book, and a certain element of autobiographical authenticity can be seen in it - Majmudar is a medical man with twin sons, although his parents were not yet born during the time of partition and he was not personally affected. A note at the back of the book tells the reader that Majmudar created his novel through reading stories about the partition, both fictitious and real.
His poetry can be seen in the nature of his writing, which is beautiful and evocative. "Late afternoon. My boys' vigil is broken by the sound of screaming. The crowd on the platform panics. This is different from the nervous, shoving aggression that took over in the morning. This is the kind of stampede that has seen fire. Or a predator. The crowd pours over the platform. It's as if a glassed-off sea has shattered through."
I really enjoyed this book, both for the background and insight it gave me into Indian history and the pleasure of a well-structured story that was beautifully written. As a male author Majmudar describes the plight of the untouchable women with great sensitivity, weaving his story around the prejudice towards them alongside stories of prostitutes and virgins. I felt that the descriptions of women in India were one of the strengths of the novel. 'Partitions' is a book which will stay with me for a long time and which I have recommended to many other people.
(With thanks to Koshkha who recommended it to me in the first place!)
Partitions was published in 2011 and became available in paperback in 2012. It is also available as a Kindle edition.
It is published by Oneworld and my hardback copy has 215 pages.
Summary: A book that I will remember for years