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I am sure Partition seemed a good idea at the time!
Partitions - Amit Majmudar
Member Name: catsholiday
Partitions - Amit Majmudar
Date: 11/08/12, updated on 12/08/12 (44 review reads)
Advantages: A very moving and well written story
Disadvantages: Quite sad and often disturbing
I was given this book by a fellow reviewer as I had commented on her review that is sounded a very interesting read. I had also read two previous reviews about the book by other fellow reviewers whose reading taste and opinions I value and this third review really was the icing on the cake. I was thrilled when this arrived in the post when I returned from our latest holiday and wasted little time in getting around to reading it.
Amit Majmudar is a radiologist before turning his hand to writing and this is his first book. There is a lot in the book which can be traced back to the author's own experience. One of the main charcters is a doctor and so we get a lot of very accurate medical knowledge coming through. The author has twin sons as does the narrator of the novel although that is where the similarities end as neither the author nor his parents were born at this time in history. Amit Majmudar explains that he got all his information about this period of time in India through books he read both fact and fiction in order to create his own fictional story.
A BIT OF HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
The story is set just around the time of Indian Independence which was In 1947 . Many wonderful stories and films have told rather romantic stories about this time in history in India however the reality is slightly at odds with the fictional interpretation.
At the time of Independence two main factions continued to battle against each other, these were the Muslims and the Hindus, Sikhs and the rest of India. Awful violence and vicious attacks continued for some time until the British, rather like an angry parent sending two squabbling children into two separate bedrooms to cool off decided to separate the two factions. The Muslims were to live in the northern area, which became Pakistan and the Sikhs and Hindus were to remain or move to the southern parts of the country which was to become India as we now know it.
This sounds like a perfect solution until you realise quite how many families were to become caught up in this movement. People who had jobs and houses just had t o leave these and move to somewhere they knew nothing about, carrying very little with them. As well as this total chaos of millions of people moving in either direction to somewhere totally unknown, thug elements and those who were either anti Muslim or anti Sikh also took advantage of the chaos and attacked anyone ,man , women and children who they felt were of the religion that they were not. Well over a million innocent people died in this violence and even today there still seems to be animosity between these different religious groups.
This is a very over simplified portrayal but does give a bit of background to the story in this novel.
We follow various people who are moving from the southern area up to the new Pakistan and others who are moving southwards to Delhi or towards Amritsar., places which are little more than names to them.
One little family we meet are twin boys aged six, Shankar and Keshev who are dressed in their good clothes to go on the last train to Delhi with their mother. Sadly they become separated as they are boarding the train and their story is of their experiences trying to find their mother again.
The narrator of the book is their deceased father who watches over them as a sort of guardian angel trying to help keep them out of danger. To make matters worse one of the twins has a major injury to his lungs and he is already not a healthy child so this is an increased burden on his twin. Along the way they come into contact with some horrendous violence which is hard to imagine how any adults could be that cruel to any two little boys, they also meet people who are kind to them, they are sold to a motherless lady who wants to keep them but they escape and all this at the young age of six.
As the father, Roshan Jaity looks over the twins during their ordeal we also learn about their life before and how he was a doctor but became very ill, then bedbound until finally dying leaving his rather naive and inexperienced wife coping with the twin boys.
Another person we follow in this upheaval seen through the eyes of Roshan Jaity, is Masud a Muslim who is going towards Pakistan with his doctor's bag and dressed in his proper shoes and suit. He is connected as he once treated the twins when they were babies but he is now a fairly elderly man.
Finally we follow Simran, a young Sikh girl whose family all took poison together rather than go through the upset of losing everything. Simran didn't drink the poisoned warm milk and so is left to make her journey alone.
This story therefore picks a Muslim, a Sikh and a couple of Hindu boys to represent this mass movement of people at this time and through their experiences we learn a little of what this decision to partition the country caused to the ordinary folk caught up in the chaos.
The author really does an excellent job of developing sympathetic and very real characters. Our heart goes out to the little boys looking out for each other trying to find their mother, how brave they are and I got very concerned each time they encountered another unsavoury character in the story rather like their anxious but incapable of any physical assistance, father watching over them.
Simran is rather naive and sets off on her journey armed with knives from their kitchen and little else. She is quickly caught by some men who were trying to gather girls to sell and the knives removed before she could make any use of them.
Masud is the most charming gentlemanly person you could ever hope to meet and during his journey he uses his doctoring skills and his black bags contents to help so many people of all sects and religions without even thinking about whether he should or not. He is one of life's heroes in the real sense of the word. He pays little heed to his own pains and injuries and travels on his journey with a growing group of devoted young followers whom he has helped and these include the twins and Simran too eventually.
THE WRITING STYLE
The author wrote this rather dramatic and very moving story in the most beautiful and almost poetic way. In no way is this airy fairy but somehow the story develops rather like a painting and we get a pretty detailed picture of what a few people might have gone through during this time of turmoil. Some of the descriptions are quite vividly unpleasant and at times I was moved to tears as I read what was happening to the characters we were following. India has never been an easy country for the average poor person to survive in but this journey added a whole new series of hardships and complications to their lives.
I really admired the way the author brought the story to life through describing small details such as the way the twins had chosen their best clothes to wear, The humiliation Masud felt as he had to squat beside the road to relieve himself and then use pages from his medical book as toilet paper, the horror of the inept capture of the two sisters by the rather sleazy men attempting to sell girls into prostitution and Masud's humble manner and amazing bravery which Simran respected when she cleaned his injured feet.
Although this is not a light easy read because of the subject matter there was never a time when I found it easy to put down. I was willing our group of people to survive and get to their respective destinations safely. I felt their pain and willed them to make the right decisions to avoid trouble and found myself reading well beyond tiredness on the nights I was reading this.
It isn't a very long book and took me a couple of nights to read as I found it hard to put down. I really felt I knew the characters and cared about what happened to them. I thought the use of a dead narrator was unusual and initially wasn't sure about this but t it worked really well as we were able to 'see' all those involved as though from above looking down.
This is a beautifully written story. It is moving and upsetting yet compelling at the same time. I would thoroughly recommend this book if you like stories set in India or like to learn a little as you read for pleasure. Thank you so much to my fellow reviewer who sent this to me and I hope I have done this book justice as the other three reviews on the book are all excellent.
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Summary: A story set in the time of India's partition