Sharanya Misra

A book of twenty-four stories from the India-Pakistan partition of 1947, that take you back to the reality, misery, betrayal, loss, and yet hope, that this unfortunate historic event triggered.

I read the book ‘Hiraeth’ by Dr.Shivani Salil a year ago. Pretty much as soon as it was launched, in fact. And I loved it. But for one reason or the other, I never could sit down to pen this review. And then a few days ago, I decided it must no longer wait. But how do you review a book that you read so long back? The beauty lies in the details, in the emotions that a book evokes. How could I recollect and recreate them? So, knowing I had to do justice with it, I picked it up again, imagining it would be a time taking exercise. But surprisingly, with every title that I read and every page I turned, the stories began to play right before my eyes. I remembered. Not just the words and plots, but the feelings too.

Such is the visual imagery the writing possesses, such is the depth of emotions coursing through this book that the stories leave their imprint on your mind and soul for a long, long time!

Hiraeth. A Welsh word that almost cannot be explained, because it is an experience, an emotion that must be felt from within. A feeling of longing, of homesickness. Could there be a better title for this book on the Indo-Pak partition of 1947? 24 stories that take you back to the reality, the misery, the betrayal, the sense of loss and at the same time of hope, that this unfortunate historic event triggered.

What a painful period that was! And what gut wrenching tragedies the book makes you privy to. Imagining the plight of those trapped in it sent shivers down my spine. When their land, their country was suddenly was no longer their own. When friends turned foes. When they had to leave their homes knowing they could never return. The school, garden, shop, houses, the neighbourhoods of their childhood, all destined to obscurity. And then the wait, to hear from estranged family and friends, always wondering if they were even alive, and if they could ever catch a glimpse of them again. All the constants in life suddenly snatched away, all accomplishments and earnings lost for good. The world’s history has some moments that can only be looked back upon with regret and the partition is undoubtedly one of them!

As Dr.Salil puts it – “A random line that was drawn across a nation, by the powers to be, dictated its people to take sides….There were no goodbyes to the places he loved or to the friends he never met again.”

Dr.Shivani Salil has captured the essence of this pain so magnificently in her work that it is frankly quite devastating! If ‘Alfaaz’ and ‘Yaadein’ brought happy tears to my eyes, ‘Beaaz’ and ‘Saans’ made me feel like a dagger had been plunged into my heart. Where ‘Chinh’ made me believe in miracles, ‘Dhokha’ left my heart shattered. ‘Izzat’ made me numb, yet ‘Pairahan’ and ‘Vatani’ filled with a strange sense of exhilaration. Every single story, inspired by real incidents, touches you in ways that only a gifted writer’s words can.

What’s also worth mentioning is the title to every story, an Urdu word that sets the tone for the story itself. Clearly, it is a book with much thought behind it!

Hiraeth. An emotion, not a book, much like the word itself. Pick this book, for these are stories worth being told and repeated to for generations to come! Let us know of the love and camerederie that was, before hatred masked it all. Let us know of the damage done to a brotherhood, the undercurrents of which exist even today, if only one attempted to look for it. Because at the end of the day, a nation was split into two and people drifted, but not before leaving their hearts behind.


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