10 Books on Indian Partition That You Must Read

India’s road to liberty from the British rule was a roller-coaster ride streaked with dreadful horror. Bloodstreams flew, and irrespective of the physical and psychological attributes, in freeing the once golden bird from the imperial clutches.

India did get Independence but it brought consequences far more than the eyes could see. By the time India gained Independence, it was already alienated from the world and, worst of all, from its own people. Two hundred years of agony and blood-lust slowed down. However, another poison of communal hatred was being planted in these two centuries, leading to the demand for a separate Muslim land by the name of Pakistan. Rounds of conferences and heated round-table exchanges led to the signing of the Partition document. This story, needless to mention, is known to almost all, but the personal experiences and eyewitness accounts of these do demand a read to get through the nitty-gritty of the country’s history and the walk towards Partition.

A seven-decade-long exposure to appalling resonances of apathy has been recapped in numerous books. A few of the most defining works have been listed below.

  1. Mr. and Mrs. Jinnah: The Marriage That Shook India by Sheela Reddy

Published by-Random House India in 2017

Sheela Reddy has meticulously penned down Mr. and Mrs. Jinnah. In the book, she has scribed the saga of a marriage that brought about a quiver in the Indian social system. The book makes the reader delve into the story of a progressive and tragic eloping of Jinnah (then 42) with Petit (then 18). It is the intriguing history of Ruttie Petit that gives this book its primordial thrust. For a woman whose parents were staunch British loyalists, it is indeed courageous to shun the stand-and-greet custom and adopt a Namaste. An immense research of Delhi, Bombay, and Karachi has gone into compiling this great work. Reddy has given a first-person account on the political and marital scenario of the time.

  1. Kingdom’s End: Selected Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto

Published by– Penguin Books on January 9th, 2007 (first published in 1988)

Saadat Hasan Manto’s name is in no demand for a lengthy foreword. His works speak for him and the honesty he poured in the stories he wrote. There is no tinge of doubt in saying that the man advanced in time. Kingdom’s End is a collection of Manto’s finest stories. His works were generally provocative and had a backdrop of partition. The selected stories are an assortment of the chilling accounts of the horrors of Partition. Powerful and deeply moving as they were, the relevance remains amongst us to this day.

  1. Amritsar to Lahore by Stephen Alter

Published by– Penguin Random House India Private Limited on 14-Oct-2000

Stephen Alter’s masterpiece opens an entirely new world to the eternal effects that Partition has had on the everyday life and the people concerned. The book is an exhilarating journey from the city of Amritsar to that of Lahore. What makes the cross-border passage story special is the year- 1997, Partition’s fiftieth anniversary. Alter’s work gives an insight of the troubled future and equally disturbed past. Amritsar to Lahore is a gripping tale about the legacy of divided lands.

  1. India Divided by Dr. Rajendra Prasad

Published by- Penguin Books India Private Limited in 2010 (originally published in 1946)

India Divided was a work by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the 1st President of India.  Dr. Prasad beautifully sketched the genesis and intensification of the Hindu–Muslim conflict.  He critically analyzed and put forth the vagueness of Lahore Resolution and summarized various schemes launched at partition. The final conclusion drawn in his work is of a solution for the clash between Hindu–Muslims. As a responsible first citizen, he wanted a configuration of the secular state, with a balanced autonomy of culture and ethnicity.

  1. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Published by– Jonathan Cape in 1981

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie was first in print in 1981. The novel talks about a child who was born on the midnight of Indian Independence Day- August 15, 1947.  The book is a pioneering piece concerning India’s transition from colonialism to independence. It is a captivating family adventure set at a time when India achieved freedom from centuries of colonial rule. With The Booker Prize and many more accolades to its name, Midnight’s Children is an indispensable read.

  1. Basti by Intizar Hussain

Published byThe New York Review of Books on November 15th, 2012 (originally published 1979)

Basti is a beautiful work from the other face of the border– Pakistan. Intizar Hussain wrote the book and published it in the year 1995. The plot of the novel hovers around three curious questions- the constitution of a common world, the things bringing people together, and the distinguishing factor. Zakir is the protagonist of the work. He makes the reader believe that reconciliation isn’t just a dream but a possibility.

  1. Sunlight On A Broken Column by Attia Hussain

Published by– Penguin Books on January 1st, 1992 (originally published in 1961)

Attia Hussain, in 1961, came up with her novel with its main setting in Lucknow. The novel has a backdrop of the Indian partition and talks about Laila. Hailing from an affluent Muslim family, Laila, a fifteen-year-old orphaned daughter fights for her own independence. Laila’s father wished that she received a western education, which she did. What was unexpected was a new autocratic uncle as a guardian. Laila follows the purdah and is given very little freedom. She is entangled in the confined traditional life and was in search of ways to free her. With a striking detail of India and its insight, this work is a great classic of Muslim life.

  1. The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh

Published by– Mariner Books on May 3rd, 2005 (originally published in 1988)

In The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh shines as a young narrator. His writing talks about traveling across time. The book recites the tales of people around Ghosh, and how they navigate through the unpredictable jet of memories, unaware of the physical, political and chronological precincts. Half-weaved and half-imagined stories arrive in concert until he disembarks for an intricate and interrelated picture of the world. The Utopian world he imagines has borders and boundaries meaning nothing but shadow lines isolating people and nations.

9.       Pinjar by Amrita Pritam

Published by– Tara Press on January 1st, 2009 (originally published in 1950)

Written in 1950 by Amrita Pritam, Pinjar is a Punjabi novel giving a woman’s account of Partition. The story orbits around Puro, the protagonist Hindu woman. Rashid, a Muslim man, abducted Puro. Breaking off from the kidnapper’s captivity, she reaches home, only to be appalled to see how her parents treat her. They refuse to accept her, thus opening channels for her to imagine the pain women endured during the partition. Pinjar is a story of a mentally strong, yet helpless woman.

10.   Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Published by- Grove Press on February 11th, 1994 (first published in 1956)

Think of great works on the Partition and the best name that echoes through is Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh. Set in the backdrop of a small village on the India-Pakistan border, the book brings up the tale of agonies afflicted on the village due to the Partition. The village is house to a large number of Sikhs and Muslims living together at peace. All is well until an outsider spreads the reports of Partition. The hate-mongering elements perpetrated ill-feelings in the Muslim and the Sikh communities against each other. The shower of blood multiplied over time, leaving northern India ravaged. Even though the characters in the book are fictitious, the devastating truth depicted is real. 

Are you a history buff too? Grab a copy of one these books to add to your reading list.

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Saket Singh