Book Title: The Night Diary
Author: Veera Hiranandani
Total Number of Pages: 272
Publisher: Dial Books
Publication Date: March 6th 2018
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.
Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.
During my school days, I have never been fond of history, all those facts and figures, even though I memorized them for the exams, I can’t say that I remember them all now. But, I always loved reading historical fiction. This might sound ironic to some people, but, I think I connected better to history when it was presented in the form of fiction. It’s common for us humans to understand things better when we VISUALIZE things in action rather than just KNOWING them; at least for me, it is that way.
I have read quite a few books on the 1947 partition, have heard stories of partition from my grandparents and I was always left to ponder upon how many lives were affected during this partitioning…too many would be an understatement too. For those who don’t know about the Partition of India, it was when the British Indian Empire was split into two countries, India and Pakistan in August 1947. That is why we celebrate Indian Independence on 15th August. Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League and Nehru who wanted to be the first Prime Minister, both wanted their own countries that they could rule. Both of them wanted their religions to be fairly represented and hence wanted separate places for the Hindus and Muslims; Pakistan for the Muslims and India for the Hindus. So, you could say that this division was a religious division. Around this time, tension started to increase between the Hindus and Muslims and this tension is still carried on in our generations, though its not like before, but it’s still there. There were many political aspects too which I am not going to mention here.
‘The Night Diary’ is set around this time of partition when the Britishers finally leave the country and India gains its independence against British rule and is to be separated into two different countries. The book is written in an epistolary format where Nisha, the protagonist of the story, writes to her mother in a journal which she received on her twelfth birthday. Her Mama died during Nisha’s birth, so now, its only her, Papa, her brother and her grandmother. She writes to her Mama everyday and notes down every single incidence. Sometimes she questions her mother if things would have been different had she been alive, she writes to her expressing how her father’s behaviour towards her brother have changed over the years and asks her which side she is supposed to take. She also tells her about the kids who chase her and her brother and bully them. Nisha is innocent and has a lot of questions that are still unanswered even in today’s generation.
I used to think of people by their names and what they looked like, or what they did. Sahil sells pakoras on the corner. Now I look at him and think Sikh. My teacher, Sir Habib, is now my Muslim teacher. My friend Sabeen is happy and talks a lot. Now she’s my Muslim friend. Pappa’s friend, Dr. Ahmed, is now a Muslim doctor. I think of everyone I know and try to remember if they are Hindu or Muslim or Sikh and who has to go and who can stay.
Nisha and Amil, her brother, were leading a normal life; her father was a reputed doctor, her grandma would spend her day sewing and crocheting, they would go to school, their cook would always make something special for Nisha, everything was normal until words about the partition started to spread.
Nisha’s mother was Muslim and her father is Hindu and this innocent little girl cannot seem to choose between two sides as she is a part of both the religions. Then comes the time when they are supposed to leave their home, cross off the border and find a new home in their new country as they were living in the other country. Nisha expresses her anger on the leaders, writing to her mother that they should have known better.
Along with her family, this twelve-year-old had to witness religious riots, people getting killed right in front of their eyes, hoping and praying that they don’t have to see the same fate. Even though fear and tension are in the rise, Nisha doesn’t forget to write to her even in this chaos. She notes down every change she sees with her innocent eyes—the grief, confusion, tension, fear, anger, distress; she writes about the horrors of the reality.
Veera Hiranandani has portrayed the characters brilliantly. The characters, especially Nisha has the power to evoke emotions in readers. I could feel all her emotions and I was so sad to see her suffer like that.
‘The Night Diary’ is a very powerful book and asks questions that are still left unanswered. Hiranandani’s writing style is lyrical and evokes a sense of grief and misery in the narrative told through the perspective of Nisha.
It took me a while to get used to the format of the novel since I haven’t read any epistolary novel before but once I got used to it, I connected to Nisha and FELT what she was going through.
Just read it, okay? I am not going to say anything more than that.
Recommended to everyone.
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