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5 Books on the partition of British India and the bloodshed that followed



Key takeaways:

Here are five brilliant books that help us experience the brutal India-Pakistan partition:
  1. Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh
  2. Black Borders by Saddat Hasan Manto
  3. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  4. Tamas by Bhisham Sahini
  5. The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh


Indian independence is synonymous with partition. Politicians who carved the Indian subcontinent in 1947 would never have had an inkling that it is going to cost the people a series of massacres and cacophonous carnage. The eyewitness who recounts the events that followed is filled with grief, downheartedness, and respect for those who write of it. Numerous journalists and writers captured these horrendous scenes in their works of fiction as well as non-fiction.

Out of all the testimonials and stories that are written recollecting the memory of partition, these are the prestigious ones and will be remembered as classics by posterity.

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Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh book cover

Morality is a matter of money. Poor people cannot afford to have morals. So they have a religion.

This historical novel is based in post-partition Punjab where the winds were raging with hatred and communalism. This tale is more about emotions rather than land and power. The choices that the protagonist face in this is thrilling and tragic.

"The images in this book are brutal in their viewing: vultures stripping human carcasses, the mass graves, the migration, the trains full of dead bodies, and others that capture the tragedy of the time: in one, a Sikh, wiping the bloodstains from his sword, the look in his eyes reflecting the madness of Partition."  —  INDIA TODAY

Black Borders by Saddat Hasan Manto

Black Borders by Saddat Hasan Manto book cover

If you cannot bear these stories then society is unbearable.

From the pen of one of the most controversial writers of the 1950s and perhaps the most sensitive and sensational Urdu prose writers ever this book recounts sketches and stories that reveal the antagonism of that epoch. Although banned and questioned, these stories divulge the ends of abhorrence.

"Manto’s daring and iconoclastic writing served as a kind of declaration of independence from the main narrative tenets and orthodoxies of his times, which was that fiction should be “socially relevant” in its content, that it locates the person within the larger realm of the public sphere, and that it deals coyly. " —  The National News

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie book cover

What’s real and what’s true aren’t necessarily the same.

A magical realist novel set in post-modern India that captures the dilemmas through allegories can be a perfect read for a long weekend. This novel is a juncture where fantasy and reality meet for instance like two passing trains.

"A page of Rushdie is a rich, jewel-encrusted tapestry of allusions, puns, in-jokes, asides, and the unconsidered trifles of popular culture. Some readers may find this diet close to indigestible, but Rushdie’s charm, energy, and brilliance, with his sheer joie de vivre, justify the critic VS Pritchett’s verdict." —  New Yorker

Tamas by Bhisham Sahini

Tamas by Bhisham Sahini book cover

In a copse of trees, they saw the white grave of a saint. No lamp was burning on it. On this night, people had forgotten to light a lamp here.

A passionate account often turned into plays, this immortal art of Bhisham Sahini lives in the memory of its readers.

"This book is poignant and real" —  South Asia Journal

The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh

The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh book cover

I know nothing of this silence except that it lies outside the reach of my intelligence, beyond words  —  that is why this silence must win, must inevitably defeat me, because it is not a presence at all.

This novel races back and forth across a nation divided by [as the title suggests] several shadow lines. The genius of Amitav Ghosh is captured in the musings and chapters of this beautiful tragedy.

"It is a well-established fact that Amitav Ghosh is a gifted writer and a phenomenal storyteller, his signature style of writing leaves the reader numb. Here Ghosh eloquently paints a picture of a heterogeneous global world. A world that was and is being divided by ‘sensible’ men who draw enchanted lines to set the people free."  —  DU Express

Hope you enjoy this list! If you have more recommendations or have read any of these books, share your takeaways and review them with the community at —!