We hosted the first BYOB Party of the year with the IISc Poetry & Storytelling club and Ranade Library at the IISc campus. The venue was beautiful — the highlight being a tree where paper letters were hung with string, beneath which readers talked about the books they were reading.

Apurba has attended several of our parties. She discussed the book The Other side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India by Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan Books. The book is considered to be one of the most influential books in South Asian Studies and has won the Oral History Book Association Award in 2001. Partition is a grim subject and though Apurba found the book repetitive, she thinks this is an important book to read, considering how little we choose to know about this massive event in human history. Within two months, 12 million people were displaced and 75000 women were abducted and raped. Butalia was surprised by the statistics that emerged when she did her research. In spite of having first-hand experience of partition in her own family (her uncle lived in Lahore and converted to Islam), she knew little about the details of the events of those chaotic times. When she talked to individuals, she realized that it was the men who voiced their stories; women needed to be prodded much more.

She spoke about several horrific incidents that Butalia has described such as the way a Sikh father killed his daughter with a kripan. The stigma of rape and the consequent loss of purity led fathers and brothers to protect their women by killing them. Even men suffered. Butalia’s uncle had turned to a persona non-grata as far as his family was concerned but even though he lived in Pakistan, his heart lay in India.

“There ought to be more partition stories about Bengal as well,” Apurba rued. She was grateful for learning about state-sponsored training centers and hostels for women in places like Jalandhar and Ambala. “The Jewish people have documented their struggles but I’m afraid we haven’t done a good job. There is a partition museum in Amritsar though.”

A discussion ensued about why these atrocities remain unrecorded. Some believe that people remain insecure and afraid and so do not wish to tackle the subject head on, preferring to brush it all under the carpet. Others feel that no one owed anyone their personal stories as even these stories would not change the way people conducted themselves. Then there is the idea of social tragedy vs personal tragedy. For many people who suffered during the partition and after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, their suffering was their own and they preferred to let those unreal truths remain unspoken as they had the right not to reveal what had happened to them. “In case of the Holocaust, there is a strong sense of good vs evil but in case of the breakup of a country, who is really at fault?” Abhaya asked.

You can read an excerpt of the book here and listen to the author speak about the book on Youtube.

More books in Part 2.