I had never read a book by Khushwant Singh before I decided to pick this one up as my next – only a couple of his short stories – I had read that too long back while in college. And let me tell you this in advance – right like the title suggests – it is one mind-blowing read. Although after close to 60+ years it is one of the most beaten to death subjects – so much have been written, made into movies, documentaries and stuff yet it was one of the most important (read horrible) part of history being made in our part of the world. Now after reading this one – I’ve got to ask some of my good friends who have read more of Khushwant Singh – about his best five works after this (Let me know your suggestions). I am more inclined to read some more of him now – as I totally loved his attention to detail and the way he takes his story forward – keeping the reader totally glued up to the very last page as if reading a perfect thriller. It is indeed tough to believe that it was written and published in the year 1956 – I am sure if you have read this – you will agree with me on that. Looking forward to some of his works big time now.
The Book: Is based on the life of villagers of Mano Majra at India Pakistan border on and after the partition of 1947. What they witness and how it all changes their life upside down is the story all about. The village has its own story going on too in the meantime as a local money lender gets murdered by a local gangster Juggut Singh who in place is in love with a muslim girl. Then we have another character as a corrupt magistrate who has his own ways of handling situations. It’s totally amazing and so damn true to see – once close friends (Sikhs and Muslims) become enemies in no time as the situation changes but its again heartening to see how it ends. How the villains become heroes and vice versa is so damn good. Another important line I would love to quote here which in reality sums up the whole situation as well as the story in the book is “Muslims said the Hindus had planned and started the killing. According to the Hindus, the Muslims were to blame. The fact is, both sides killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped”. Another important character in the book is of Iqbal (Mohammed or Singh) who is well education and but an atheist social worker, well travelled and from Britain who thinks politically. What they do in the end is what we readers expect from them is totally fundoo stuff – it was beyond my expectations and I am sure no one can guess its ending that easily.
The story raises so many questions and offers so much food for thought. I really wonder how the public would have reacted to this one then – got to find it somewhere as what exactly the critics wrote about this one. Khushwant Singh gives us a superb understanding of human actions and makes it pretty clear that everyone was responsible equally. And isn’t it amazing that even after almost 70 years the difference is still very much there and visible big time. It is indeed a must read for all – a different perspective altogether which does not talk of politics much but it’s after effects on the society. I will definitely give it a 5/5 for sure – if I have to rate this book.