Freedom at Midnight- Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre

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Recently, on a visit to the thrift store, I found a copy of this book, and decided to educate myself on India in general, but specifically on the partitioning of it.

In the last 20 years or so, working as a technical writer, I’ve made plenty of Indian friends, and become far more interested in the culture and cuisine of the place, so it seemed like a good way to be more aware of my friends’ lives and way of living. If it wasn’t for British friends who introduced me to Indian food back in 1993, it might never happened! So thanks, Jason and Grant (Grahnt, he says).

I always made A’s in geography, but I knew there was plenty about the historical nature of the world I didn’t know. For instance, I knew something about the partitioning of India into Pakistan, but I didn’t realize how much bloodshed and controversy went into it. I didn’t know that the initial concept was to have Pakistan be divided into two completely separate areas– Pakistan and East Pakistan. And that East Pakistan went on to become Bangladesh.

All I really knew about Bangladesh was that it is one of the poorest areas of the entire world, and that George Harrison had written a song about it, and hosted a fundraising concert. But the area east of Calcutta became Bangladesh in 1971. As my excuse, I’ll let you know that I was five years old when this happened.

I was fortunate enough to have a Religion class in 7th grade (in Catholic school, yet!). We covered all the major religions, including the Zoroastrians, which gave me quite a bit of insight while reading this. As far as I knew, India had always been Indian, but the Muslims there were a huge portion of its culture for a long while until partition.

Until the arrival of the Muslims, Hindu dictates instructed the Untouchable caste that they were where they were due to sins in their previous life. The only way to escape from their lot in life was to do good deeds and live good lives so they could be reborn into a higher caste. Not wanting to wait for a caste upgrade in a future life, many Untouchables decided to try the Muslim way of life. The Muslims were accepting, and would take whomever wanted to join them. This was a major reason for hostilities between the two groups– it didn’t matter what religion these Muslims were now. They were Untouchables, and their descendants would always be Untouchables. They were unclean, and Hindus wanted nothing to do with them. That was a huge eye-opener for me.

I’m learning much about Mountbatten, Nehru, Gandhi, and the “Father of Pakistan,” Jinnah. Turned out that Jinnah, who demanded the partition, was actually dying of TB at the time, and no one knew it. If this fact had been known, things might have gone much differently.

Much more to go, but it’s a fascinating read of India in the midst of major upheaval, and a good glimpse at the culture. I tried reading The Far Pavilions in high school, but I didn’t finish it. I’d probably be much more interested now.

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