Freedom At Midnight – by Dominique Lapierre & Larry Collins
Throughout my schooling, I had textbook chapters about freedom struggle & independence which were surprisingly based on the same theme: “Gandhi & Nehru brought us independence”. It sounded just like a fairy tale with Gandhi sitting on a series of fasts, driving away the British, resulting in freedom for India and everybody “happily lived ever after”. Such was the conditioning of the mind that neither were we taught about partition & nor did we ever question how Pakistan came into being. The general impression was that Pakistan is just another country like Sri Lanka but an arch rival which waged wars against India and played nail-biting cricket matches.
Over time, as I watched documentaries and read books, I realized that everything I had studied in school was just a propaganda and I was curious to learn real history in detail (especially related to partition & transfer of power). As my curiosity about Indian History grew, a friend of mine recommended this book (Freedom At Midnight – by Dominique Lapierre & Larry Collins). Due to the authors being from foreign nations, I was skeptical about this book, assuming it to be a sponsored work by Europeans. However, I still gave a try and from the very first page, I felt like getting into a time machine and witnessing the events of 1947 unfolding right infront of my eyes. I was overwhelmed by the amount of information within the first few pages itself and got hooked to it due to the insights & the narration style turned it into a gripping read.
This is undoubtedly one of the best books ever written about the transfer of power from British to India & Partition. (The authors claim to have spent thousands of hours on research, collecting facts, evidences, documents & conducting interviews). Spanning over 20 neatly organized, aptly titled chapters, the authors meticulously describe the events which unfolded between Jan 1947 and Jan 1948. Since the events are described from the perspective of Lord Mountbatten, the authors have painstakingly tried to explain how he learnt the intricacies of freedom struggle & Indian politics within weeks, and hence the active narration might help readers understand the prevailing conditions in 1947.
Some of the most interesting chapters are the ones related to the exotic & extravagant lifestyle of Indian Maharajas.
As the narration turns towards the intensive meetings between Lord Mountbatten & influential political leaders, one would understand the gravity of the situation created by Jinnah which forced Congress leaders to painfully accept the partition.
As the decision of partition is finalized, the book delves into the mammoth complications of partitioning the land & the intricate details of dividing public/govt property including even something as trivial as inkpots!!
As the narration reaches closer to the midnight of Aug 14-15, the book turns into a sort of hourly journal covering the ecstacy of masses on one hand due to independence and on the other hand, the gruesome details of partition riots, hatred, bigotry and religious conversions.
After the detailed narration of the painful partition riots, the book slows down its pace and slowly turns its focus towards Gandhi’s efforts in curbing the riots (using non-violent means) and eventually the book ends with the Mahatma’s assassination.
To put it in a nutshell: Packed with insights & detailed accounts of events from Jan 1947 to Jan 1948, the book gets the reader hooked from the very first page by providing a solid foundation in the form of background information of the prevailing conditions. It goes on to offer a close view of the tricky situation & deadlock related to partition, along with its complication & gruesome details of the partition riots, the Kashmir issue and finally the events leading up to the tragic death of the Mahatma.
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