| Tragic trail
The Heart Divided: A Novel By Mumtaz Shah Nawaz, Penguin, Rs 375
Some books are destined to affect our lives forever. The book under review seems to be one such. It has been retrieved from the ravages of time so that it can occupy centre-stage in the thoughts of the new generations, both in India and Pakistan. Written by a Muslim lady in 1948, and published posthumously in Lahore, the novel captures the tumultuous times in a way that would move many a heart. It is a fictionalized account of undivided India from the Thirties till Partition. As the title suggests, the division had taken place in the hearts of the people long before the physical division of the country.
Mumtaz Shah Nawaz was a freedom fighter who remained under the Congress-fold till 1940, when she thought she had to fight for Pakistan. She met with a tragic death at the age of 35, when her plane crashed on her way to New York to speak on Kashmir at the United Nations.
The Heart Divided was first published in 1957 in Lahore. Its reprint in India, and that too after 50 years, may raise some eyebrows. The credit goes to Krishna Kumar of the Delhi University, who, working on one of the most troublesome periods of Indian history, stumbled upon this important find. This book can help us understand what went wrong when two important parties like the Muslim League and the Congress parted ways.
The book is certainly not a treatise on history. It is a beautiful story of two sisters, Sughra and Zohra, and their brother, Habib, in Lahore. In the backdrop is the Indian freedom movement. The narrative flits between the family and politics, between fact and fiction with remarkable ease. If on the one hand are the reasons for the Muslim League to veer away from the Congress, on the other is the exploration of filial ties and emotions. While the leaders create misunderstandings, the generation gap prevents families from coming closer. Shah Nawaz’s narrative moves at two levels simultaneously and convincingly.
Apart from the sisters and the brother and their parents, there are others who are integral to the plot — Mohini, a Hindu, and Najma, a Muslim friend of Zohra. Once Habib falls in love with Mohini, the trouble starts between the families which have been friendly for years. The Habib-Mohini relationship has a tinge of the tragic in it. It shows the helplessness of two individuals striving against a hostile socio-religious set-up.
There are hurdles that others too have to overcome. Sughra’s arranged marriage is a disaster. Najma is forced to tie the knot with a widower and when divorced, is found unsuitable for a re-marriage. Zohra falls in love with one who remains unacceptable because of his low class. The novelist’s secular point of view dominates the whole novel.
The delineation of the political events will interest both the common reader as well as those interested in the period. People born after independence will get a chance to know about the aspirations of the common Hindus and Muslims of the time from an angle quite different from the prejudiced point of view of historians. As Kumar says in the preface: “Her fictionalized documentary tells us that historians and political analysts of Partition miss the point when they seek the reasons for the monumental tragedy within the triangle of the Congress, the League and the British.”
In the end, all is not lost. Vijay, the brother of the dead Mohini, says, “We shall try to keep you back with love.” It is the young who can once again cement ties between the communities. The Heart Divided will be counted as a relevant document of the times.