by P N Balji
Midnight’s Furies by Nisid Hajari
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Penguin Random House, India
It was many years ago that I fell in love with midnight. That was when I read Freedom at Midnight, a magical book about India’s Independence written by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. That was also when I changed my mind about the witching hour, the time of night when demons, witches and ghosts were thought to come out to frighten us.
I am also a sucker for books written by journalists. Many of these books are written with a clarity and real-life incisiveness that only a journalist who has had his or her boots on the ground can bring to life.
So when I was given the book, Midnight’s Furies, to review I grabbed it. Bloomberg journalist Nisid Hajari’s account is a valuable addition to the many heard and unheard stories of India’s bitter fight for Independence and the bloody road to Partition.
Hajari’s claim is that Partition is still not understood fully even though so much has been said in books, art, film and music. The disdain he reflects in his writing about these past works will make
one wonder: So how is his take different and refreshing? For one, Hajari uses his skills as a story teller to good use. He brings to life personalities we have read or heard about. In the process, the author makes them look human.
For another, it is told in the style of a novelist, making nearly every section a page turner. That makes it easier to get into the human drama of the story, showing that history need not be a dry and boring story.
As always in a complex and heart-wrenching re-telling of a story like the Partition, Hajari ignores some critical players like Muhammad Iqbal, the first man to put forward a case for the
creation of Pakistan. Then there is a lack of use of primary sources for telling the story.
Although he doesn’t hide his reliance on secondary sources, the reader is left wondering whether he could have put in more work to get to more original versions. That is always the problem when you try to delve into stories that are painfully old and still divide communities. Yet, for those who are romantic about midnight stories of a country that is still paying the price for the decision of their leaders to go separate ways, this work is a good addition to their book shelves.
P N Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist.