Wednesday July 17, 2024

Partition 1947: Wholesome exploration through literature

By Our Correspondent
August 14, 2023

In the tumultuous year of 1947, the Indian subcontinent witnessed a momentous event that would forever alter its course -the Partition. After two centuries of British colonial rule, the colonisers finally withdrew, leaving behind a divided land and a trail of immense human suffering. Despite the profound trauma of the Partition, the testimonies of survivours and witnesses went largely undocumented for several decades. However, in 2007, the Citizens Archive of Pakistan initiated the Oral History Project, aimed at collecting and preserving the personal stories of those who experienced the Partition. Soon, other initiatives like the 1947 Partition Archive followed suit, recognising the importance of safeguarding these narratives for future generations. This article delves into captivating books that vividly recount this tumultuous chapter of history, preserving tales of survival, sacrifice, and human resilience. These books are like time-traveling vessels that bridge the gap between then and now, helping us understand the complexities of the shared history of both nations.

“Train to Pakistan”

Khushwant Singh's “Train to Pakistan” tells a heart-touching story of the Partition of India. It focuses on an imaginary village called Manmo Majra, where Sikhs and Muslims lived peacefully. But when violence erupts during the Partition, their harmony shatters. A “ghost train” arrives with dead bodies, fueling revenge among the Sikhs. However, a brave Sikh named Jugga, driven by love for his Muslim lover Nooran, selflessly saves the train by sacrificing himself. The book shows how love can triumph even in the midst of terrible tragedies and how the Partition tore apart communities that once lived together peacefully.

“The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan” by Yasmin Khan

“The Great Partition" emerged as a powerful book that digs deep into the historical events that shaped India and Pakistan as we know them today. It all starts with Malcolm Darling, a retired Indian civil servant, who embarks on a journey in 1946 to find out what regular folks think about gaining freedom. The book weaves together different perspectives from scholars, officials, and ordinary people who lived through those times. It covers various aspects, like the end of British rule, politicians causing divisions, the mass movement of people during partition, and the challenges of helping refugees. The author of the book narrates a fascinating story filled with real people and their experiences.

Qurratulain Hyder’s “Fireflies in the Mist”

“Fireflies in the Mist” is a sweeping story set during the turbulent times of India's partition. The book focuses on individual destinies rather than major events, offering a nuanced look at characters' lives across generations. Centered on young women in Dacca (now Dhaka), it explores the complex interplay of culture, religion, and politics. The final part follows the characters' post-partition journeys, revealing disillusionment and changing ideologies. Though some background information would have been helpful, the book remains an entertaining and riveting read, painting a vivid picture of Bengal's history.

“Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition” by Nisid Hajari

“Midnight's Furies” reveals the troubling roots behind prevailing regional conflicts. The book explores a crucial time in India's history when British rule ended, and India and Pakistan were born. It wasn't as peaceful as it seemed, with violence and many lives lost during this transition. The book focuses on important figures like Jinnah and Nehru and shares real-life stories. Hajari doesn't blame anyone but offers an objective understanding of the partition's complexities.

“Aag ka Darya/River of Fire”

“River of Fire” by Qurratulain Hyder, known as “Aag ka darya” in Urdu, is a remarkable masterpiece of Urdu literature. This historical novel spans over 2000 years, exploring the rich cultural heritage of the Indian subcontinent and the profound connection between the past and the present. Through the journey of diverse characters in different eras, the book delves into existential themes, such as the existence of God, the purpose of life, and identity. Hyder skillfully weaves together the lives of four characters from Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian faiths, as they reincarnate throughout history, offering a seamless narrative that captivates readers. The novel vividly portrays Indian history, making it a must-read for those interested in the country's past and its people's shared identity.


Khadija Mastoor's masterpiece, takes us back to the time of India and Pakistan's partition, exploring the social and economic challenges of that era. The novel beautifully portrays the real-life struggles of a middle-class Muslim family, reflecting the experiences of many households during that time. The story moves gracefully between the past and the present, keeping us captivated throughout. Khadija Mastoor's writing skillfully expresses the issues faced by people from all walks of life, making the characters come alive with their unique struggles.

“Udaas Naslein”: “The Weary Generations”

Abdullah Hussein's timeless saga, “The Weary Generations” captivates Urdu readers as a bestseller since its 1963 publication, remaining in print for over 40 editions. Set during the tumultuous Partition era, it portrays Naim's journey, a son of a peasant who marries Azra, a rich landowner's daughter. Scarred by World War I, Naim rebels against British rule and later seeks refuge in Pakistan post-Independence. The novel profoundly delves into post-colonial trauma, making it a pivotal work on Partition's aftermath and the Indian subcontinent's historical tensions.

“Ghaddar” by Krishn Chander

The novel is a poignant account of the 1947 partition, which revolves around the love between a Sikh man Bej Nata Singh and a Muslim girl Shadaa. As communal violence erupts, they are forced to separate to survive. Bej witnesses the horrors of migration—dead bodies, rapes, and massacres. After reaching India, he learns of his sister's capture in Pakistan and his father's murder. Filled with revenge, he encounters brutality from his own community. Ultimately, Bej rescues a crying Muslim child, realising the equal inhumanity on both sides of the border. The novel ends with him feeling torn and disconnected, no longer belonging to either country.

“A Chronicle of the Peacock,” Intizar Hussain

The mesmerising tale portrays the pain of partition, exile, and fading memories. The story takes an imaginative twist as the peacocks of Rajasthan are deeply affected by the testing of nuclear weapons in 1998. The narrator finds comfort in the beauty, grace, and peacefulness of peacocks. Throughout the narrative, various birds and their surroundings come alive, reflecting the wonders of nature. Aswatthama's evil spirit symbolises human destructive tendencies. In a gripping manner, Hussain unveils the futility and horror that war brings.

“Toba Tek Singh” – a short story by Saadat Hasan Manto

Manto's “Toba Tek Singh” delves into the 1947 partition period in a mental hospital located in Pakistan, housing Hindu and Sikh patients. Among them is a Sikh from Toba Tek Singh, who constantly stands and speaks gibberish. When news of their transfer to Hindustan (India) arrives, they are bewildered by the notion of Pakistan and Hindustan. The story poignantly captures the confusion and tragedy faced by those affected by the partition. Several authors explored the partition of India, but Manto's work stood out as a paragon in Urdu fiction, featuring stories like “Yazeed,” “Akhri Salute,” “Khuda ki Qasam,” “Anjam Bakhair,” “Shaheed Saaz,” and “Khol Do.” While some authors faced criticism for bias, Manto's writing on partition remains a powerful and unbiased portrayal of the tumultuous era.

“Khaak aur Khoon” by Nasim Hijazi

The historical novel highlights the struggles and losses faced by Indian Muslims during their migration to Pakistan after the 1947 Partition. Lord Mountbatten assigned Gurdaspur to Pakistan, but Cyril Radcliffe, the joint chairman of the two boundary commissions for the Punjab and Bengal provinces, conspired with Indian politicians to change boundaries, leading to perilous journeys for the Muslims seeking a safe home in Pakistan.