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Remembering 70 Years Of Partition: 5 Indian History Books To Learn More

Posted by Ray McLennan on 17-Jan-2018 14:31:37

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There was not a family in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh who was unaffected by the partition of 1947 – an event which passed its 70th anniversary in August 2017. Coming as it did after the euphoria of independence and the struggles of many men and women in the 1930s and 40s, partition was a bitter blow to widespread dreams of unity and has left a mixed legacy. 70 years on, many people still living remember the tumultuous times following partition, when India was plunged into near Civil War. This year, we have celebrated the positive aspects of independence for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, alongside other postcolonial countries. Partition holds lessons from history that should never be forgotten, but from the perspective of 2017, we feel there is cause for optimism about how each of these countries has charted a unique course under challenging economic and political conditions.

There has been a surge of interest in partition and independence this year. The following are five books we feel every retailer should hold to give readers a balanced and in-depth view of the events and their aftermath.

1) From Plassey To Partition, by P Bandyopadhyay

ISBN: 9788125025962 | Paperback | £19.99

Partition is impossible to understand without an objective overview of the colonial period and the events that led up to it. Contrary to popular perception, the British Raj was not a monolithic colonial administration. Instead, it was a patchwork of principalities, traditional states and directly governed regions that evolved over time. Some parts of India were never under direct British colonial rule, but were instead governed by hereditary princes who acted as vassal governments to the British. Even the directly governed parts of India were never originally British government colonies. They were private territories governed by the British East India Company, which only later fell under direct rule. From Plassey to Partition is an accessible, easy to read history of modern India from an Indian perspective. It provides a nuanced view of colonial India and the growing voices of independence, with a colourful cast of heroes, villains and opportunists on each side.

2) Jinnah: India, Partition & Independence by Jaswant Singh

ISBN: 9788129113788 |Hardback | £14.99

No history of the partition is complete without a close examination of the life of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Many histories of modern India published in the West focus mainly on the roles played by Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru in bringing about Indian independence. While their role should not be downplayed, Jinnah remains a forgotten giant in the events preceding and following partition. Jinnah – a devout Muslim, was initially a proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity under a secular state, but became disillusioned by sectarian strife between the two sides, which he saw as undermining the moral integrity of the independence struggle.

He came round to the belief that only a separate Muslim state – which was to become Pakistan – would guarantee peace and mutual harmony between the two factions. He therefore played a key role in engineering partition, becoming an influential Pakistani politician. Jinnah has been demonised by some writers as a politician who sabotaged unity for sectarian ends, but this is not how Jinnah himself saw it.

This excellent biography brings much-needed balance and clarity to a complex political time, where principled men (as well as opportunists) on both sides had to make difficult, snap decisions. Jinnah was horrified by the political violence following independence and sought the best, most pragmatic solution. He was haunted by his decisions and may in hindsight have made mistakes, but was ultimately just another flawed individual travelling blind through events that no one could have predicted before they happened.

3) Bearing Witness: Partition, Independence, The End Of The Raj by Kamra Sukeshi

ISBN: 9788174362865 |Hardback | £7.66

August 14th, 1947 marked the end of colonialism in regions now known as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Never in history had India stood as a united, political nation state, with so many opportunities and dreams for the future. Sadly, this unity was not to last. After several months of chaos and violence, the partition of the former British Raj into Pakistan, India and Bangladesh was complete. Bearing Witness recreates this historic moment from the perspective of the men and women who lived through it. Unlike many books about partition, which mainly focus on India, the primary focus of Bearing Witness is Pakistan. The author draws on a wide range of personal testimonials, political speeches and early literary treatments of partition from Pakistani sources, giving a unique view of August 1947 and its immediate aftermath.

4) Map Making: Partition Stories From Two Bengals, by Debajani Sengupta & Ashis Nandy

ISBN: 9788188575008 | Paperback, £1.00

A Martian anthropologist visiting the Indian state of West Bengal and the nation of Bangladesh will note a common language, shared culture and heritage. Indeed, for hundreds, if not thousands of years, Bengal was a single cultural and political entity. However, since 1947 the two Bengals have been politically divided, and have incrementally been growing apart economically and politically. Mapmaking explores the impact of partition on ordinary families from the two parts of Bengal, giving a balanced view from Indian and Bangladeshi contributions. The 12 narratives in this book are at times haunting, at times tragic, and are frequently imbued with stoic determination and ironic humour. It is interesting to see the different experiences of branches of the families divided by history, and how individuals responded to different cultural environments, economic challenges and opportunities for development.

5) Divided Legacy: The Partition In Selected Novels Of India, Pakistan & Bangladesh, by Zaman Niaz

ISBN: 9789840514717 |Hardback |£17.99

Divided Legacy explores how partition has been recreated and examined through the lens of historical fiction. Dozens of books are reviewed here, with analysis given to how the events of each novel reflect a different aspect of the human experience of partition. Some famous partition novels, such as Train To Pakistan, are brutal stories of loss and separation which have themselves become literary landmarks in modern Indian publishing. Divided Legacy traces how depictions of partition in literature have changed since the 1940s, with progressive healing moving the focus away from raw tragedy and into human drama. Modern Indian authors such as Salman Rushdie (in Midnight’s Children) and Anita Desai (Clear Light of Day) can use partition as an historical backdrop to complex personal dramas in a way that wasn’t possible for earlier authors due to the raw pain of the partition events.

The Most Extensive Collection Of Indian History Titles

Partition and its aftermath is still etched deeply in the Indian consciousness. The impact is strongly felt in Indian literature, with thousands of general interest and academic history books covering the topic, as well as many powerful historical novels.

Our stock catalogue at Motilal Books includes hundreds of high quality Indian history books written in the English language. These cover the oldest written records on the planet, India’s ancient history, The Greek and the Persian invasions, and the various European colonial periods, independence struggle, partition, the emergence of modern India and many other topics. Indian and European authors lend an authentic voice to the historical scholarship of the period, which you can access at competitive prices.

To find out more about sourcing the best Indian books for retail in the UK, download a free copy of our Independent Booksellers Guide To Books From India by clicking here.

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