Writer: Anwesha Sengupta

Illustration: Ranjit Chitrakar, Sirajuddaulah Chitrakar

Date of Publication: September 2022, Kolkata 

Review by Anurima Chanda

Itihashe Hatekhori: Deshbhag (An Initiation to History: Partition), which runs to 58-pages from cover-to-cover, opens with the map of India-Pakistan etched on the lines of the map that was published in the Guardian on 15th August, 1947. The very next illustration that follows, in the traditional scroll style painting from Bengal, recreates the scene from the (in)famous Simla Conference of 1945 where the papers for the India-Pakistan partition are believed to have been prepared. The scene is populated with representatives of the British colonial power and the major political parties of British India mainly the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. With this begins the 8-chapter long history book for middle-grade readers, which is part of the project titled “Revisiting the Craft of History Writing for Children (2022)”, funded by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung South Asia. 

While the main focus of the book is on a much discussed and deeply contested episode from Indian history – the Partition – what is interesting is how it has been presented through carefully curated accounts that help revisit the period with a new consciousness. It is, perhaps, no longer necessary to underline the non-neutral nature of historical narration which is very much influenced by the point-of-view of the narrator. What makes such non-neutrality a bit dangerous is when such narratives are paraded to readers who might not have the level of criticality that is required to sift through them. History then ends up becoming propaganda and a brainwashing tool. Attempting to undo the frightening unmaking that this kind of history-making leads to in young audiences, the Itihashe Hatekhori series makes use of multiple point-of-views in presenting history that is conscious of its inherent biases. 

In recounting the events that led up to the Partition and continue to have repercussions in our society today, this book touches upon the usual suspects like the role of the major political parties in forcing a two-nation theory down the throat of a group of unsuspecting people, Radcliffe and his infamous scissors that led to scars that would never heal, and the ultimate formation of India-Pakistan. How it goes beyond a simple history book is in the way it pauses the narration here and there, to ask difficult questions. Is history all about just listing events? Is Partition merely an event of the past or does it have relevance even today? What demands led to the Partition and what did it finally yield? How did this demand-yield cycle play out in the lives of common people? Using these as starting points, the text navigates to unchartered territories through the stories of farmer Karim Naseer and Bithi Didimoni. In the present age of increased migrancy and CAA-NRC debates, where the thin line between the concepts of citizens and foreigners lose linearity, Karim and Bithi’s story bring in newer perspectives. 

Times such as ours, when fake news becomes news thanks to how narratives are tinkered with by the wide ranging limbs of the (social) media, it becomes crucial to have informed discussions on topics such as Deshbhag – Partition. This is exactly what the book manages to achieve, making sure to keep the facts lucid, not overtly jargonistic. However, such projects can fall flat on its face unless the readership base is also adequately widened. To ensure this, the project comes with the promise of translations in multiple languages and free distribution of its printed copies to vernacular medium schools, public libraries, NGOs, and community schools and libraries – clearly an added bonus. The accompanying illustrations in the style of scroll painting enhance the appeal by bringing colour to the otherwise bland pages of history. In this tug-of-war of fact and fiction, it is interesting how the book dares to declare that the time has come to open its bag of stories – “golper jhulita khule boshi eibar” (pg. 29). It might not be too fanciful to hope that this might just be the beginning of some difficult discussions that bring back a splash of ethicality to the process of ‘fact’-production. 

About the Author

ACLiSA mamma bear, Dr. Anurima Chanda, survives entirely on copious amounts of coffee (which she’s trying to cut down) and the anticipation of spring (which seems to be left nowhere anymore). Assistant Professor at the Department of English, Birsa Munda College, North Bengal University, she completed her PhD on Taboos in 21st Century Indian English Children’s Literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Also a Children’s Author, published with Scholastic and DK, she challenges some of the very taboos in her writings that her doctoral thesis hoped to expose. When not engaging in her favourite pastimes of dancing, painting or enjoying the theatre she can be found lovingly investing in all the mamma-bear responsibilities of the hub. What she loves most about children is that they can be so brazenly honest, while her academic interest in children’s literature is motivated by the fact that there is still so much to deconstruct!

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