By Atul K Thakur
Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition Author: Nisid Hajari Publishers: Penguin/Viking; Price: Rs 599; Pgs: 328;
India and Pakistan recently celebrated 68 years of independence but, ironically, that was aptly an occasion to look at the lost plot of human independence in both countries after the bloody partition of 1947. That year was eventful in the Indian subcontinent, with little joy and too much sorrow. The partition of India was made essential by leaders across the spectrum, most stoutly by the Muslim League led by a secular Jinnah. He was a man of the moment, along with Nehru and the last viceroy to India, Lord Mountbatten.
Both finalised the ground to make Pakistan an independent Islamic Republic in South Asia to satisfy large Muslim constituencies and keeping intact the west’s command in the region with a newly made nation with innumerable fissures in its underbelly. The troubled nation was standing on the foundation that had stock of anything but not the comfort of history and inclusiveness. Furthermore, East Bengal struggled, causing for another round of bloodshed and it was born as a new nation, Bangladesh. Bengali Muslims finally received their cultural connect but bad memories since 1947 stayed inseparable from their existence. No luckier were the people of Pakistan and India too on that count but, on the positive side, both countries have attained well the modern tributes of nationhood.
Nisid Hajari, a journalist and polemicist with formidable exposure to the past and present events of South Asia, brings out a vivid tale of partition in Midnight Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition. Strongly supported with facts and figures, this book is a class apart from the trend-driven books on partition. Here, Nisid’s pastime for archival study allows him to shift from the tradition of definitive oral writing that has been an oft repeated case with many other historians attempting to write about partition and its fallouts.
Here, in this book, the accounts of different shades of violence stay on centre ground and unleash a series of findings and concern towards a phase most mismanaged in the subcontinent. As the book genuinely looks back, it becomes able to differentiate the condition that India was destined to be divided before the much-awaited independence from colonial rule. Nisid manages to tell meticulously how the painful events that proceeded the partition shaped the major post-colonial discourses in India and Pakistan. These memories are still marching on and the prospects of constructive dialogue are among the most elusive things between the two countries.
Despite having a common past, both countries are placing themselves far too distantly to be threaded together to maintain a sound, working relationship. The book, however, skips going further on this and focuses much more resolutely on the lives and charismas of two charming, successful and ambitious leaders, Nehru and Jinnah. Certainly, Nehru was a favourite of Gandhi, notwithstanding the numerous differences they had about major ideas related to economic planning and the extent of centricity in power. They had fine working relations. The Quaid was instrumental as a nationalist, who fought his best against colonial rule and did remarkably well during the freedom struggle but his tryst with identity issues remained inseparable. Sadly, that upturn of history did not do well for the region, alas!
In the chapter on Kashmir, Nisid is right to an extent in judging how 1947 still matters for the two countries. It is reality that haunts any prospects for normalcy. The communal plots, which gained the traction of imperial conspiracies, enabled this land to stay the neck-bone for both India and Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten, a suave general, became the ‘mover and shaker’ of that time in history with no parallel in significance. He, along with his wife Edwina, were indeed the people who touched the minds of the elites and gave a permanent fissure to the colony that was most crucial for Britain’s diminishing materialistic quest.
Midnight Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition sets a good tone of history telling with an interesting narrative. This researches deep into a theme that is definitely not easy to handle. Barring a few lapses with facts, brevity and typos, which should be attended to in the next print, the book is a significant entry in the non-fiction category of this year. A serious book like this holds the capacity to revitalise debates over the causes and consequences of partition even in 2015. Nisid neither tries to look through the angle of ‘if partition had not happened’ nor does he allow his journalistic understanding to run ahead of his keenness as a researcher. For better reasons, he effortlessly appears to be more of a historian and less a journalist. This probably is to allow him to be in sync with the causes and to be in a position to take them further, finally coming out with a remarkable book.
Apparently, he has succeeded in writing it and the readers, especially those who are engaged with South Asia, should get their hands on the book. Of course, westerners should read it too; here they will learn a lot about the reflections of their own past.
(The reviewer is New Delhi based journalist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Daily Times, September 22, 2015