Recommended Reads on Partition

August always invariably brings back memories of the Partition that our country underwent in 1947 which led to India being divided into two parts namely, India and Pakistan. So many families were displaced, people lost lives, homes and their belongings. Worse was the riots and chaos that followed this displacement leading to rape, loots and murders. Till date, it is considered to be one of the largest displacement of people in history.

It is a painful reminder of where does greed lead us to. Even after seven decades, the memories of those times haunt the survivors and their families. The longing for their home is something that has been left unquenched for years now without any respite in sight. There are many authors who have tried to capture their pain, trauma and struggles in their books. While some successfully managed to recreate their pathos, some failed at it. Today we will talk about some stellar reads on Partition (Both Fiction and Non-fiction) which we recommend strongly for all book lovers to understand Partition better and know our history well.

  1. The Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians by Anam Zakaria (Non fiction)
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The Partition of British India and the subsequent creation of two antagonist countries is a phenomenon that we are still trying to comprehend. Millions displaced, thousands slaughtered, families divided and redefined, as home became alien land and the unknown became home. So much has been said about it but there is still no writer, storyteller or poet who has been able to explain the madness of Partition.

Using the oral narratives of four generations of people – mainly Pakistanis but also some Indians – Anam Zakaria, a Pakistani researcher, attempts to understand how the perception of Partition and the ‘other’ has evolved over the years. Common sense dictates that the bitter memories of Partition would now be forgotten and new relationships would have been forged over the years, but that is not always the case. The memories of Partition have been repackaged through state narratives, and attitudes have only hardened over the years. Post-Partition events – wars, religious extremism, terrorism – have left new imprints on 1947. This book documents the journey of Partition itself – after Partition.

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2. The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness by Anirudh Kala (Fiction)

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‘Is it partition time again?’ Ma asked when I drove her to the station to put her on a train.
Feeling her heart pounding against my chest, I patted her on the back and said, ‘Don’t be silly. Partitions do not happen every day.’

But that was later.

In the aftermath of Partition, India exchanged the Muslim patients in its Mental Hospitals for their Hindu and Sikh counterparts in Pakistan. This collection of interlinked short stories explores the impact of this decision in both countries, against the larger backdrop of the ongoing consequences of Partition. Rulda Singh and Fattu (Fateh Khan), recently discharged patients from Lahore’s Mental Hospital, find themselves separated by the deportation, possibly for ever. Years later, Prakash Kohli, an Indian psychiatry student, hears Rulda’s account of his journey to India, with its casual official cruelties and unexpected tenderness. When he visits Lahore at last, Prakash discovers the story of his own birth in 1947, forms a lifelong friendship with a Pakistani colleague—and realizes that nobody knows why so few mental patients survived the exchange.

As Prakash becomes troubled, and then fascinated by finding the missing stories of these patients, he realizes that Partition continues to have a profound effect on the psyches of the ordinary people whom he treats. A middle-aged woman passes on a recurring delusion of being chased by murderous mobs to her children. A young boy from Simla is convinced that Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani President’s daughter, loves him and they discuss world affairs in his dreams every night. An elderly lawyer recounts a love story, doomed by impassable bureaucratic hurdles. And Prakash, seeing Punjab go up in flames again under a militant call for another land of the pure, wonders if Partitions can continue to happen every day, after all.

These stories, and more, with their recurring and shared characters, remind us that Partition does not merely lie in the past. Powerful and unsettling, this collection is essential reading.”

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3. Footprints on Zero Line: Writings on the Partition by Gulzar (Fiction & Non fiction)

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The Partition of 1947 has influenced the works of an entire generation of writers, and continues to do so. Gulzar witnessed the horrors of Partition first-hand and it is a theme that he has gone back to again and again in his writings. Footprints on Zero Line brings together a collection of his finest writings – fiction, non-fiction and poems – on the subject.

What sets this collection apart from other writings on Partition is that Gulzar’s unerring eye does not stop at the events of 1947 but looks at how it continues to affect our lives to this day. Wonderfully rendered in English by well-known author and translator Rakhshanda Jalil, this collection marks seventy years of India’s Independence. Footprints on Zero Line is not only a brilliant collection on a cataclysmic event in the history of our nation by one of our finest contemporary writers, it is also a timely reminder that those who forget the errors of the past are doomed to repeat them.

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4. The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India by Urvashi Butalia (Non fiction)

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The partition of India in 1947 caused one of the most harrowing human convulsions in history: over twelve million people were displaced amidst a frenzy of murder, rape and abduction on a massive scale. For decades these violent realities remained buried in silence, even though the memories of brutality never faded. Urvashi Butalia’s The Other Side of Silence was the first major work to exhume the personal trauma of the Partition. An undisputed classic, it meticulously locates the individual experiences and private pain at the heart of this cataclysmic event. Furthermore, Butalia reveals how people on the margins of history—children, women, ordinary people, the lower castes, the untouchables—were affected by this upheaval.

In a passionate and stimulating new introduction, Butalia examines not only recent developments in the expanding field of Partition studies but also the heart-breaking ways in which this colossal tragedy continues to impact our lives and what this means for the future of the Indian subcontinent.

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5. Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory by Aanchal Malhotra (Non fiction)

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Remnants of a Separation is a unique attempt to revisit the Partition through objects that refugees carried with them across the border. These belongings absorbed the memory of a time and place, remaining latent and undisturbed for generations. They now speak of their owner’s pasts as they emerge as testaments to the struggle, sacrifice, pain and belonging at an unparalleled moment in history. A string of pearls gifted by a maharaja, carried from Dalhousie to Lahore, reveals the grandeur of a life that once was.

A notebook of poems, brought from Lahore to Kalyan, shows one woman’s determination to pursue the written word despite the turmoil around her. A refugee certificate created in Calcutta evokes in a daughter the feelings of displacement her father had experienced upon leaving Mymensingh zila, now in Bangladesh. Written as a crossover between history and anthropology, Remnants of a Separation is the product of years of passionate research. It is an alternative history of the Partition – the first and only one told through material memory that makes the event tangible even seven decades later.

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Any titles you would recommend in this list? How many have you read out of these? Share your thoughts with us in comments below.

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