This Is Not That Dawn
Jhootha Sach, a novel written by Yashpal, one of India's greatest contemporary Hindi language authors, was translated into English by his son Anand with the title This is Not That Dawn. The book is an epic novel about pre-partition Punjab and connects both history and fiction to narrate the tremendous hardships faced by ordinary people escaping violence in Lahore and trying to find their footing in the new post-partition India.
The author uses the actual events that were taking place in Lahore during the time of Partition and weaves these events into a story that is stunning in its narrative and depth. It's the story about dealing with extreme hardships. The story revolves around the protagonist Tara, a young Hindu woman with an independent spirit who is kidnapped and raped by a Muslim but is then also saved by other Muslims who help her escape to India. The story is about the displaced refugee families trying to survive in Delhi and how over the years they use the experiences of Partition to make a better life for themselves. It's a story about woman's empowerment in a deeply patriarchal society.
I was also fascinated about the novel in terms of how it introduces Lahore to us. The neighborhoods, the streets, the Hindu and Sikh families who were living in the city, their fears and sense of foreboding as the August days were inching ever so closer. How the author narrates the story by using the geography of Lahore is so brilliant that you would think that you actually live there. Neighborhoods like Shahdara, Shalami, Mozang, Model Town, Lakshmi Chowk, Dharampura, the bylanes of Old Lahore will become part of your everyday lexicon. The growing unease in the city from the very onset of 1947, the false hopes that the city will be given to India, how Hindus and Sikhs started to protect their neighborhoods from the mobs, all of this makes the book a must read and it provides an insight on what people were going through as the city was burning around them.
Most of the homes in the cities of Indian subcontinent are joined together and have a common wall, and as the mobs entered the homes, the only way for people to escape was to jump from one rooftop to another. The narrow streets became difficult to pass through as most of them were barricaded by the mobs and there was no escape route. Whole neighborhoods were set on fire, especially Shalami, which was predominantly Hindu, where the mobs poured kerosene and set explosives in its drainage system and lit it on fire. One part of the book that struck me was when the author describes the fluttering green Pakistani flags on the rooftops of homes in Lahore, as if it was a sign that the city was newly conquered and the Indians were vanquished.
In the end, the book is about the triumph of the human spirit, how good people whether they are Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs always were able to help each other when things were completely out of control. It is about those who didn't look the other way when there was injustice being perpetrated on others.
As Vasudha Dalmia, Professor Emerita of Hindi and Modern South Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, describes this book as one of the most important work on partition. Her full review of the book is available here:
The partition of pre-independence Punjab and the years thereafter, as they are played out in the centuries-old Lahore-Delhi nexus, form the backbone of the two volumes ofJhutha Sach (1958, 1960) or False Truth, Yashpal’s powerful epic novel. The first volume focuses on communally-torn Lahore in the year immediately before Partition and a little after. The second largely on a post-independence Delhi, milling with refugees – together they add up to more than 1000 pages. The short sentences, their matter of fact tone, an almost dry reportage style, which, while providing vivid detail, does not dwell on descriptions, inner turmoil or emotional upsurge, yet manage to convey a milieu, a period, an urban landscape with a rapidity and a power on a scale unmatched elsewhere in the writings of the times.
This Is Not That Dawn: Jhootha Sach Kindle Edition