Next up in my series featuring novels set within the confines of the Indian subcontinent is Cracking India by Pakistani author Bapsi Sidhwa. Published in 1991, Sidhwa’s novel depicts the years leading up to India’s bloody partition into the two nations of India and Pakistan as seen through the eyes of a somewhat precocious and polio-afflicted Parsi girl named Lenny. Set in what is now Pakistan in the Punjabi city of Lahore, the novel’s young narrator describes the human tragedy wrought by India’s division. With her native Lahore home to roughly as many non-Muslim Hindus and Sikhs as Muslims, national partition, (despite frequent promises from nationalist leaders and British officials that all minority religious groups will be welcome and protected in the two nations), ultimately would unleash an uncontrollable frenzy of violence, dislocation and genocide that would forever alter the fabric of both nation’s societies.
For the most part, I enjoyed reading Sidhwa’s novel but unfortunately, while many of the human interactions Lenny narrates are poignant manifestations of the greater forces unfolding around her, a good number of them are merely trivial, contributing little if nothing to the overall story and definitely should have been edited from the book. But on the other hand, I thought the book did an admirable job capturing what it might have felt like to live through the tragic events associated with India’s partition. Since I burned through Sidhwa’s novel in only a few days, for whatever reason or reasons I must have liked Cracking India, despite its shortcomings.
By the way, Sidhwa’s novel served as the basis for the 1998 Indian film Earth. According to IMDB, at the end of the film Sidhwa even has a cameo appearance as an older Lenny. Lastly, if this post makes you want to go out and read a book about India’s traumatic partition, I would recommend Alex Von Tunzlemann’s Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. Published in 2008, it provides excellent historical background on the developments leading up to partition, as well the major personalities involved in the process, including Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah and last British viceroy Louie Mountbatten. Special attention is also paid to the love affair between Mountbatten’s wife Edwina and Nehru, which is alluded to several times in Cracking India.