Book Title: A Time of Madness: A Memoir of Partition
Publication : Aleph
Author : Salman Rashid
Blurb : During the chaos of partition in 1947, something dreadful happened in the city of Jalandhar in Punjab. As a result of this, Salman Rashid’s family fled Jalandhar for Pakistan, the newly created country across the border. They were among the nearly two million people uprooted from their homes in the greatest transmigration in history. A time of madness tells the story of what he discovered with great poignancy and grace. It is a tale of unspeakable brutality but it is also a testament to the uniquely human traits of forgiveness, redemption and the resilience of the human spirit.
A well known travel writer, Salman Rashid, takes his much awaited ‘first’ trip to India, the country of his origin, in the bid to visit his ancestral home and meet people (if still alive) of whom he heard so much about, back home in Karachi. After several failed attempts at getting a Visa, when he finally got one, he finally takes off his journey with a ‘grainy photograph of a house on Railway Road in Jalandhar’. He described it thus.
“On the twentieth day of March 2008, I headed home for the first time in my life. I was fifty-six years and a month old. Walking east across the border at Wagah, I was on my way to the fulfilment of a family pietas of very long standing. I was going to a home I had never known; a home in a foreign land, a land that state propaganda wanted me to believe was enemy territory. But I knew it as a country where my ancestors had lived and died over countless generations. That was the home where the hearth kept the warmth of a fire first kindled by a matriarch many hundred years ago, nay, a few thousand years ago and which all of a sudden had been extinguished in a cataclysm in 1947.”
At 127 pages, it is a short read but one that makes you stop and process the amount of pain, grief and anger running through the lives of people across both sides of the Radcliffe line (that divides India and Pakistan). The initial chapters are about the author making way into the country of his origin and exploring villages of Solan and Ughi in Jalandhar in search if his ancestral home. Once he meets his people, some real revelations take place that would shock and surprise you. But that exactly is what partition was all about. It’s a personal journey that the author undertakes to better understand his own kith and keen and his roots.
What fascinated me was that the author being a Pakistani himself was quite critical of his own country and pointed out how Pakistan as a Nation State failed miserably post Partition. Vivid accounts of his family being murdered brutally have been narrated as the author discovers these details from the neighbors of the place which could have been his own had the ‘Great Divide’ not taken place.
Written in a fast paced style, the book at times becomes more of a political and socio-cultural commentary than a memoir.
With some chilling accounts of Partition, interesting comparisons drawn by the author between the two countries and a rather free-flow yet engaging style of writing, I would rate the book at 3.5 stars out of 5.
About the Author : Salman Rashid is Pakistan’s leading travel writer. The author of nine travel books, this is his first memoir.