Let’s dial down the anger, says UK writer of latest book on Partition
From: PTI | London |
November 21, 2020 2:10:02 p.m.
British-based author Marina Wheeler, whose new book hits shelves in India on Friday against the backdrop of the partition of 1947, aims to promote a better understanding of the different perspectives of a difficult chapter in shared British and Indian history.
In The Lost Homestead: My Mother, Partition and the Punjab, Wheeler, the former wife of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, treats the complex issue of Partition as a very personal reminder of her Sikh mother’s trip from Sargodha, now in Pakistan, to India and finally to Great Britain.
After years of her own research on both sides of the border and some very intimate conversations with her mother Dip Singh, who passed away earlier this year, Wheeler hopes the book will open some new discussions.
“But on one condition, namely that people just have to downshift their anger,” Wheeler said during a Zoom interview with PTI.
“I want people to distance themselves from it in order to better understand the different perspectives. The India-Pakistan conflict does not seem to be diminishing, on the contrary, it seems to be worsening, “she said, adding that her book should be seen as a” plea for better understanding “.
“It’s a pretty upset time, maybe because of the Twitter atmosphere. It would be good to move around in a more moderate and calm way to discuss the world and relate to one another, ”she said.
Admittedly, she tried very hard not to get drawn into the political aspect of the India-Pakistan conflict and instead hoped to offer some kind of transnational perspective from someone who is half British, half Indian and with Pakistani roots.
Her father is the late-celebrated journalist Sir Charles Wheeler, who met her mother Dip while posting as the BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent in Delhi.
Wheeler has sought to untangle the many intertwined threads of migration, belonging and learning from our history by drawing on the oral tradition of her mother and accounts of her Indian family in Delhi and Mumbai.
“I tried very hard to understand the different perspectives. So I hope Indian readers find this enlightening and interesting, ”she reflects as she realizes that not only in Britain but also in India the younger generation does not always know the details of the events that led to Indian independence. Partition and creation of Pakistan.
“I’m very interested in this whole debate and I think it is time for a more nuanced, balanced discussion on empire that people begin without prejudice,” she says of the need to include the British Empire in the UK school curriculum.
“This is very important, especially since the diaspora in this country from the Indian subcontinent is huge and comes from all over the empire. From my point of view, that’s something to celebrate, ”she adds.
While her research for the book included two visits to Pakistan, trips to India were varied as she tried to work on the sidelines of family weddings and events.
The seeds of the book were sown in 2017 as the 70th year of Indian independence was widely celebrated. Facing her elderly mother’s weaknesses, Wheeler decided to embark on a journey that inevitably turned into an exploration of her own roots.
The writing process came at a time of significant personal turmoil for the highly successful and busy 56-year-old constitutional and human rights attorney, including battling a cancer diagnosis and the breakdown of her marriage to Boris Johnson, then British Foreign Secretary.
“I was a bit sneered at first when my publisher called this ‘my journey’, but in the end I found absolutely exactly what it was. Making the book and being able to fall back on my past and my family was very solid. It was a healing experience, ”she reflects.
And when Wheeler gets her mother to delve deep into her past, including the traumatic memories of her being finally evicted from her parents’ home, she feels that her mother ultimately took great pleasure in reliving the happier memories of her youth.
“She was very good at drawing the line in a way. Sometimes she would light a cigarette when she wanted me to leave the room, turn on the radio or something. She was 85 when I started and I thought I respect that; She had the right to determine how much she cared about her life, ”she recalls.
After the ban has broken all travel plans for book trips to India, Wheeler is now looking forward to the New Year’s virtual Jaipur Literary Festival, where she hopes to interact more directly with some readers in India.
In the meantime, she hopes that ‘The Lost Homestead’, published by Hodder & Stoughton, will highlight the extent to which the human stories are reflected on both sides of the Indo-Pakistani border.
“Politics is kind of a messy business, but underneath, we’re all the same people who feel the same way about these raw things,” she notes.
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