3.5/5 Stars, Death Destruction Disaster
“If India wants her bloodbath, she shall have it!” Mahatma Gandhi to Archibald Wavell, 27th Aug, 1946
It is ironical that the one time, the messiah of peace & non-violence uttered words of carnage, they turned out to be prophetic beyond belief. ‘Partition’… the word has become a synonym for ‘meaningless disaster’ to Indians, and probably for the Pakistani people as well. I have read and seen books, documentaries, featurettes about the ‘Why’, ‘How’, ‘When’ & ‘Who’ of that time, trying to make sense, to find justification for the enormous loss, that both nations suffered, and found none. No apt ideology, no holy war, no past, no explanation to it all, save one, ‘Ambition & Arrogance’. That’s what doomed us.
Goodreads Blurb :- Nobody expected the liberation of India and birth of Pakistan to be so bloody — it was supposed to be an answer to the dreams of Muslims and Hindus who had been ruled by the British for centuries. Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s protégé and the political leader of India, believed Indians were an inherently nonviolent, peaceful people. Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was a secular lawyer, not a firebrand. But in August 1946, exactly a year before Independence, Calcutta erupted in riots. A cycle of street-fighting — targeting Hindus, then Muslims, then Sikhs — spun out of control. As the summer of 1947 approached, all three groups were heavily armed and on edge, and the British rushed to leave. Hell let loose. Trains carried Muslims west and Hindus east to their slaughter. Some of the most brutal and widespread ethnic cleansing in modern history erupted on both sides of the new border, searing a divide between India and Pakistan that remains a root cause of many evils. From jihadi terrorism to nuclear proliferation, the searing tale told in Midnight’s Furies explains all too many of the headlines we read today.
“History is written by the Victors” and so finding an impartial account of it is nigh impossible. The pages, if written with intent, can be colored any which way, So reading this book was a sobering experience like bathing in cold water. Mr.Nisid Hajari, has tried his utmost to remain neutral, to present the events ‘as is’ and be critical of them as impartially as he could. I am almost thankful that he didn’t use a lot of imaginative writing while describing the massacres. Reading about them in pure statistics was chilling enough, ten’s of thousand of women raped, many thousand children slaughtered, men cut down with indifference, like swatting flies. The Sikhs with their Jathas, The Muslims with their war cries, the Hindu RSSS with their fanaticism, trains dripping with blood and filled with body parts, utter bloodbath. Furies let loose indeed.
The book gets full marks on researching the ‘Indian follies’ for the partition, many a time, the only story told is the one critical of the British (Don’t get me wrong, the lion’s share of the blame does go to them, they were the prime mechanics of the hate that festers across the Indian subcontinent still, though Mr.Nisid Hajari has not delved into that, he has portrayed the Brits as someone who just wanted the job done.), in popular retelling the Indian leaders come across as helpless victims. Not so, though heavily influenced and burdened by the long standing policies and the departing chaos of the Raj, the Indian leaders and their vanity deserves a lot of the blame too. Nehru with his idealism, trying to be the white knight all the time. Patel with his stiffness, Gandhi with his meekness and of-course none more than the ‘Lucifer’ of the Indian ‘Eden’….Jinnah , the vainest of them all. Each of them with their necks stiff and noses in the air. A cause that they have fought for, for so long together, forgotten in an instant, replaced with the pursuit of deluded fame and personal glory.
A considerable portion of the book is focused on the partition of ‘Punjab’ , and the ensuing riots which happened. The key players behind it all, their attitude, how the insecurities of all the communities were stoked into a fearful frenzy, to the point that they forgot that they have been living with each other for centuries, in relative peace. And it became ‘them’ or ‘us’ that quickly. It also does a good job in explaining the other’s side attitude, the friction between the two regimes has its roots in the tussle of partition. Every little spat between the founding fathers has now bloomed into a full on policy of suspicion and distrust for the two nations. The insurgency in Kashmir and the tussle for territories in the early days of independence, has been covered in quite detail, something lacking in the standard histories.
An interesting read, for any history buff or politics enthusiast, though it does read for the most part as plain History, but I found that a welcome aspect. Something, this volatile should be treated with an analytical attitude, rather than an emotional one. The later, would happen on its own, despite our best tries.