What would you do if you were told you had minutes to leave your home? What would you take, what would you be thinking…?
This thought dominated the minds of millions who moved across the newly created borders in 1947. The place they called home was not a geographical zone but an emotion. Most just locked their doors and left as if they were going on a vacation. They ended up as refugees in a foreign land with a yearning for a home they could never return to. That yearning is what Hiraeth stands for.
There are some books that are too personal. Stories that are an emotion. Hiraeth: Partition Stories From 1947 by Dr. Shivani Salil is one such book. The author belongs to a family of refugees. The short story collection is her tribute to them and to all refugees, on both sides of the border.
As a child of around six years old, I remember asking my mother why we never went back to our village during the summer vacations as my friends did. Delhi and Calcutta were our hometowns, but we did have a village too, right? That was the first time I heard about partition. And why we could not visit our villages in Rawalpindi. Because they were in a different country now.
Partition took away our roots, our sense of belonging from us.
Both the title and the cover are a perfect prelude to the stories within. Hiraeth is a Welsh word that means “yearning for home”. There could not be more apt a title. The cover with a bolt of lighting dividing the country but with common roots is indeed true for the people of Punjab on both sides of the border. Political borders may have been drawn, but we share our language, food, and culture.
The book is a collection of twenty-four standalone short stories. Each story has an Urdu title. A fascinating language and one that was a language of Punjab. Back then, Urdu was not considered a Muslim language. There is a generous dose of the colloquial that adds to the narrative. There are stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Heartbreaking stories of loss. Stories that leave you with a lump in your throat. There are also uplifting stories of hope. This is not the kind of book you read in one sitting. The stories make you introspect. And often shock you when you realize they are true.
I have grown up hearing stories of the partition. Much like the author’s family, my parents and grandparents did not pass on any of the bitterness to us. They were almost always happy memories. The very first story Alfaaz hit home. I have lost count of the number of versions of the story. Young girls and women who were taken in by good samaritans and brought up like their own. And united with their families decades later.
70 years ago, being a refugee meant helplessness, fear, tears, and sorrow borne out of loss. Today I’d say being a refugee stands for courage, self-belief, willpower, and sheer hard work to be able to get up, gather and dust ourselves and do what needs to be done.
The writing style is lucid. Although a debut author, Dr. Shivani has mastered the art of storytelling. You are transported to the streets of Punjab, the lanes of refugee camps, and can almost smell the sense of loss and yearning.
I cannot recommend the book enough. You don’t need to belong to a family of refugees to pick up the book. If you enjoy reading human stories, this is the book for you.Hiraeth: Partition Stories From 1947 by @ShivaniSalil #BookReview #BohoPonderings #MyFriendAlexa Click To Tweet
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About the author
Dr. Shivani Salil has an MBBS with an MD in Clinical Microbiology and till recently was working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology and is currently on a sabbatical. She is a voracious reader who loves words, both written and spoken. In her words, “I found happiness and satisfaction with my recent foray into writing and blogging. I would describe myself as a proponent of gender equality in the true sense who believes feminism is an attitude that both the genders need to have if they want to make this world a better place. I value truth and honesty above all else and chase sunsets for the sheer joy of it!”
She writes on a broad spectrum of issues, from parenting to health and relationships to philosophy in both fiction and non fiction format, across various platforms like Momspresso, Women’s Web, Mumbai Psychiatry Clinic, and SheThePeople to name a few .
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