August 14 just got stamped as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’. India’s Independence Day has always had this horrific carnage weighing upon it, being a victory that just wasn’t, a freedom that failed 14 million people uprooted from their homes, leaving at least a million dead.
Just how the jubilation of independence suddenly turned into a betrayal that led to two communities that had coexisted from eons morphing into bloodthirsty mobs is hard to understand. Borders and atrocities and murderous rage seems to reign until we pause and see the individual stories. Stories when human beings exercised their choice and willingingly helped each other, risking their own lives, showing hope in bleak adversity. These are the stories of love and kindness that need to be remembered rather than only immortalising the crimes that ripped us apart.
Swapna Haddow’s ‘Torn Apart: The Partition of India’ is exquisite, painful, heartwarming, kind and cruel all at once. It’s a slice of the truth, a dark page in the life of two young boys, told in alternating voices of Ibrahim and Amar.
Ibrahim’s family rejoiced along with the rest of India in August 1947. But by October, they had to flee in the night, leaving behind everything that meant anything to them. They did not succeed. A mob accosts them and young twelve year old Ibrahim has to bolt away, unable to wait and see whether Ammi, Abbu and dear little Nafia even manage to escape. Somehow, he makes it to the station, waiting all alone for a train to Pakistan. He sees one of the dreaded trains, the words ‘a gift from Pakistan’ scrawled on it, piled high with bodies. Instantly, another conflict is sparked at the station. Desperately fleeing from the knives and sticks, he beseeches another boy to help him. This boy is Amar, a street kid who wants to avenge the life of his only friend Gopi, and who somehow finds himself helping this clueless boy who wants to reach the border, but finds himself woefully unprepared for anything that is out there.
As these boys strike a deal, we live each moment with them. We feel Ibrahim’s shame as he begins to realize how privileged his life has been, a glance at the street kid life as one of ‘Eagle’s children’, Amar’s gnawing pain at the loss of his only friend, blood-curdling terror when their lives are at stake, their endearing innocence that makes them think Ashok Kumar — their favourite hero — may be able to stop the violence…and incredible fleeting moments of pure camaraderie, bravery in an unlikely friendship that somehow blossoms in the midst of horror.
The author does not give any false hopes, any explanations or excuses. She just presents history as it is – flawed, unfair, merciless and fearful. Yet, what rings out, is the essential message she seeks to tell us- that in these horrific dates and incidents documented in history, are stories; somehow there is always humanity, telling us that we have far, far more in common than the line that divides. That is the history we want to pass on.
An excruciating yet magnificent read for ages 10+
Other fabulous reads on the partition for children 8+
- The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
- Across the lines by Nayanika Mahtani
And few more on the insanity of religious violence and rising above it
- The Nameless God by Savie Kernel
- Being Gandhi by Paro Anand
- Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar