Posted on March 14, 2016
Where the River Parts by Radhika Swarup
Set in 1947 during the period of the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan, Where the River Parts is a story of love and separation; of shattered dreams. It tells of the pain and suffering endured by those who had to escape from their homeland, with very few possessions, and make a new life in unfamiliar territory.
When the British agreed to give India independence the Hindu and Muslim communities could not agree to form a united India and so the country was separated into two states: The Northern part, which was predominantly Muslim became Pakistan and the Southern, Hindu dominated region, became the Republic of India.
Seventeen year old Asha is Hindu. Firoze, the brother of Asha’s best friend Nargis, is Muslim. They have lived as neighbours, in peace, for many years and the two families are good friends. Asha and Firoze fall in love and embark on a relationship which Asha, in the naivety of youth, believes will be accepted by both families despite their different religious backgrounds. Asha states simply that:
“We like each other. Our families like each other. I don’t see what the problem is.”
As many in their situation have experienced, life is never that straightforward.
As Partition approaches the violence escalates and, despite the reluctance of Asha’s father, the family is forced to leave their home and go to Delhi when Asha is put at risk. Firoze remains in the newly formed Pakistan. Asha and Firoze say goodbye with the belief that they will be reunited to marry when the troubles settle. Asha has a secret that even Firoze has no knowledge of when she sets off on her journey to Delhi.
The tension between the two countries continues and Asha and Firoze are forced to rebuild their lives without each other. It is fifty years later when they meet again, in New York. Asha’s granddaughter wishes to marry a Pakistani and through this union Asha and Firoze are reunited. However, underlying prejudices resurface and the horrors of the Partition are remembered, creating challenges for all involved.
The fleeing of refugees is topical due to the crisis in Syria, with thousands upon thousands forced to leave everything behind and seek a new life where there is peace. Although Where the River Parts is set in a different location and time period the essence is the same: That overwhelming sense of survival which forces families to leave everything behind in pursuit of safety.
The first few pages give an indication of what the reader can expect from this moving story.
“Was that the sound of gunfire? A boy stepped on a twig, and all turned towards the night – was this them, was this the Muslin butchers?”
Their fear at every noise, their fear of being discovered before crossing to safety, is palpable. The story is told mostly through the eyes of Asha, and Radhika has captured well the challenges and sacrifices the young girl has made through the Partition of India. As a third generation migrant from Pakistan Radhika has personal knowledge of the complex backgrounds of both the Pakistani and Indian cultures and these have been beautifully expressed during the novel.
The story reflects the reality of how prejudices and memories of horrors experienced during such brutal conflicts survive generations, and how the strength of culture and background often override the forces of love. If two people of different religions choose to remain together against their family’s wishes it is not uncommon for parents to disown a child – such is the depth of feeling.
How do Asha’s family deal with her granddaughter’s wish to marry a Muslim? You will need to read the book to find out. Happy reading!
I wish Radhika lots of success with the book and thank Keara at Sandstone Press for the review copy.
Where the River Parts is published by Sandstone Press
Radhika was born in India and spent her childhood in many different countries providing her with plenty of experiences for her writing. She has published many articles and short stories and currently writes for the Huffington Post.
You can follow Radhika on Twitter: @rdswarup