Published: 09th August 2018
Author Veera Hiranandani's book, 'The Night Diary,' reminds us of the pain of partition
The author wrote most during the day, between 9 am to 12 pm while her kids were in school. She did ten revisions of The Night Diary
Aye mere vatan ke logon,
Zara aankh mein bhar lo paani.
Jo shaheed hue hain unki,
Zara yaad karo qurbaani.
These iconic lyrics sung by Lata Mangeshkar implore us to forever remember the sacrifices of all those martyrs who gave their lives for the country. And we believe that along with them, all those who attempted to cross the border to get to India and vice versa also deserve our prayers. In what is known today as one of the largest mass migrations in history, 14 million people crossed the border and one million of them died doing so. Author Veera Hiranandani in her latest book, The Night Diary tells us a fictional tale of a family who is crossing the border to reach India and in doing so, exposes us to the pain and suffering of those 15 million people who migrated (or attempted to migrate) in real life.
Nisha and her brother Amil were born to a Muslim mother (who passed away) and a Hindu father residing in Pakistan. Thus, they are attempting to cross the border
Written in a classic diary entry style (think The Diary of Anne Frank), the story unfolds through the words of the shy and reticent Nisha, who prefers to write her thoughts than speak them. Her brother, her 'superhero' father and her grandmother, who are from Mirpur Khas in Pakistan, are migrating to Jodhpur in India. While one half of the journey is on foot, where her brother Amil and her grandmother come close to death, the other half is on the train, where the children witness death itself when a gruesome clash erupts between Hindus and Muslims.
Writing is challenging in general, but I don’t find it more difficult to write for children. In fact, I think it’s easier for me. I can get into a twelve-year-old’s head pretty quickly
Veera Hiranandani, Author
Quite unusual for a children's book, we think. "When you look deeply into stories of partition, the violence is unimaginable. In some ways, I've only scratched the surface," says the author, who has an MFA in Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and now teaches creative writing at their writing programme, and adds that she remained cautious of striking a balance between what a young reader can handle and the truth of history. Hiranandani feels closest to Nisha's character as "her interfaith identity (Hindu and Muslim) mirrors mine in some ways. I grew up in an interfaith family (Hindu and Jewish) and felt confused about my identity at times, though the stakes are much higher for Nisha," admits Hiranandani, who loves to cook and paint.
Hiranandani is working on a historical novel and is looking at her own parents’ marriage for inspiration. It’s about a Jewish girl who watches her sister fall in love and elopes with a Hindu man studying in America in the 1960s
As someone whose grandparents crossed the border during the partition, I often find myself wondering if our story will eventually merge with the stories of the millions of others who also did the same and will one day be forgotten. We ask Hiranandani if she felt the same and she says, "There’s some truth to that. That’s part of the reason I wrote this book, to capture a piece of this history, so that families could perhaps read it together. I also wanted those who don’t have a connection to learn about this important and painful slice of global history and possibly learn from it," she concludes. And it is important that we revisit these stories, more so during this time of the year, and get to know our people, our neighbours and our nation better.
Here's hoping: The author hopes that Nisha and her brother will grow up to be more open-minded and kind towards all faiths and possibly help other survivors see the world that way
To find out more about the author, click on veerahiranandani.com