If you read one book belonging to the genre of South Asian fiction, let this be it. Because, what better defines the sub-continent geographically, politically and last but not the least, emotionally but the division of Hindustan and the creation of Pakistan?
The current political atmosphere between the two countries is rife with tension and reading ‘Where The River Parts’ by Radhika Swarup in this context was very meaningful. Swarup tells us the story of Asha, born in a town that is terribly affected by the Partition of 1947. Many of that generation will shudder with memories of when as children they were subject to tremendous psychological trauma of having to leave their homes and escape to either the East or the West depending on where they were fleeing from. Losing loved ones along the way or in unsanitary refugee camps had somehow become their reality.
Swarup highlights the pain of partition and at the same time reinforces in us that the human emotion of love very rarely abides by political or religious mandates. The story begins in 1947 where Asha and Nargis are revelling in the joys of childhood and as Asha grows up she falls in love with Nargis’s brother, Firoze. The manner in which their love is expressed throughout the book is heartwarming - be it their time alone in the library when they were growing up or much, much later when after the partition of the countries and their own relationship ,their paths cross once again in America!
The characters are powerful to say the least and remain with you long after you have finished the book. I can still picture Firoze’s sophisticated manner, Asha’s polite and humble demeanour and Nargis’s childlike playfulness. The use of the Punjabi wedding song “pichhe pichhe aanda” very hauntingly follows you through the book and emerges at such opportune moments that I for one, had goose bumps. Running through the narrative, akin to the river that is mentioned in the book’s title, is the religious disharmony between Hindus and Muslims which at the time of India’s partition was at its peak and understandably so.