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Boss Battle Book Review: Hiraeth- Partition Stories from 1947

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Note: The book is a collection of short stories inspired from true events that occurred in 1947. The land of Hindustan was divided into India and Pakistan a day before the countries were officially declared as independent nations (after the British left).

These stories are not ordinary tales. They are words, emotions, and lives of people who had to flee; escape, run away, hide, and try their best to survive when 'some higher authorities' decided to divide their land. A land that was theirs belonged to them no more. A chunk of their country was no longer theirs.

Tears, pain, agony, uncertainty, questions, betrayal, depression, murder, death, and venom ruled the land that was ruthlessly broken into two.

Amidst the overwhelming darkness were rays of light- friends who defined relationships, families that provided a helping hand, strangers who became family.

Thousands of families perished; thousands survived, barely. Disjointed, destroyed, and desolate, they picked up the wrecked pieces of their lives in a feeble attempt to move on.

Some made it big, some lost it all. Either side cried for their misfortune even as the governments assured things would be better.

How can things be better? Relocating wasn't a choice. It was a compulsion. It was an order.

Years later, when they talk about the partition, tears fill those eyes. Voices choke with burdened emotions. Hands tremble as the memories of those dreadful days rake up the old wounds that never healed.

The book has 24 stories- of the past and present. Most with a hopeful ending; the rest dealing with the harsh realities one cannot, should not deny.

As long as one lives and even after, the stories have to be told. Children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren should know. They should know how lives were ruined for reasons best known to certain influential people.

Hiraeth is a book one should read to remember that the two odd stories about the partition studied in school are not merely stories. Read them when one gets old enough to realize what had happened. Read them again to understand how a single word was more than enough to destroy lives.

It has been long time since I read a book that moved me as much as this one did. The partition has occurred long long before I was born. But, somewhere in the corner of my heart, I cried for what had happened. The tears made their way back to my eyes when I started reading Hiraeth.

Alfaaz (words) the first story is about a brother-sister duo who got separated during the partition. They find each other decades later by chance (or fate) when a documentary maker interviews them in their respective countries.

Imagine getting a faded letter in a language you've long forgotten from a brother who was your life. How the heavy hearts would yearn to meet each other before ill-health tears them apart forever!

Zakhm (wounds) is the last story in the book and probably the most powerful one. Narrated by the son of a 'displaced' refugee, it shows the lives of people who stayed in Jammu & Kashmir and ended up being citizens of neither countries.

The tone is almost detached, unlike the other stories. It grabs your attention by stating the facts without using emotions as a tool.

Saans (Breath) is the story of a family like many others who were forced to leave their land. Still, the couple had suffered personal loss long after they thought they survived the worst nightmare. There is no life without breath, and sometimes there is no life left even when someone is breathing. One can be alive and dead.

What does a father do when he is forced to surrender his daughter to save the lives of his family members? Izzat (honor) deals with the options a father has when a mob lusting for his daughter threaten to butcher the family if their demands are not met.

A girl who knows there's only one way out of the situation bows down as her father wields his sword to prevent the mob from getting their hands on her.

Hiraeth, the title story means longing in Welsh. Still, the word fits the book to perfection. A story with the same title shows the internal conflict of a woman surviving in the refugee camps. Her yearning for her home, the celebrations of Diwali (a Hindu festival), and her self-loathing for thinking about it when the circumstances were pathetic.

Is it wrong to think about happy times when in distress? Can she not wish for a miracle? How does her faith in God come to her aid?

Kulfat (Grief) is a strange thing indeed. It can make a person bawl or it can turn them into stone. When a young wife goes into shock after the death of her husband, nothing her family does brings her back from the trance. Words, cries, children, and memories- none move her. Until a familiar act tugs at her heart allowing grief to flow from her eyes.

Jazbaat (emotions) have a way of getting into our system unnoticed. A starving woman asks for milk to feed her baby. An officer at the refugee camp ensures she gets it each day. One day, she vanishes, and he can't find her. Later, he gets to know the truth. She's no more. What he learns next is truly a miracle. A woman who gave birth to a stillborn finds a new lease on life when the child is given to her care. Strange are the ways of life!

Businessmen, workers, farmers, artists, shop owners, housewives, children, and elders- none got away unscathed from the wounds inflicted by the partition.

The rich became poor; the poor remained poor. The old survived, cursing their fate, while the young got butchered helpless to prevent death from reaching them.

Shivani, thank you for writing the book. She is a friend and a fellow writer I admire. Her stories don't hit readers in the face. Instead, the words silently creep and crawl, filling the reader with unexplainable emotions. Hiraeth is no exception. It is proof of how simple words can break your heart.

The book uses regional languages to retain the authenticity of the stories. Each of those words and phrases has been explained in the footnotes of the same page. Hiraeth is a book I would recommend others to read.

5 stars

About the author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.


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