Book: This Side That SideAuthor: Avijit GhoshPublisher: Yoda PressPages: 336 Price: Rs595

How do you retell stories rooted in estrangement? Or try and define histories etched out in blood? One way, perhaps, is to look at them from afar, or let time bring objectivity. This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition, an anthology of 28 graphic narratives curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh, has the benefit of time on its side — considering it’s now 66 years since Partition rent the nation into two, and 42 years since it split into three with the creation of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The medium of graphics is also a good way to look at the epoch, given how a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words.

The anthology, however, does not just look at blood-soaked histories but also at human stories. Take ‘Noor Miyan’, penned by JNU-based revolutionary poet Vidrohi and illustrated by Delhi-based illustrator Tina Ranjan. It is the story of Noor Miyan, reputed for making the best kohl in undivided India, who leaves for Pakistan after Partition, leaving Daadi disconsolate because now her eyes would never again “surge like rain clouds”. Or ‘Milne Do’, written by Karachi-based journalist Beena Sarwar and illustrated by Prasanna Dhandarphale, where two journalists from either side of the border exchange stereotypical queries and concerns of the other side.

The anthology is “an attempt to retell old stories in a new language”, says Ghosh. “In a way, to come to terms with it, and negotiate with memory, experience and curiosity by wondering what it is like to reimagine the Partition.” Ghosh, whose first graphic novel Delhi Calm captured the atrocities of the Emergency, is a member of the Pao Collective of graphic artists. 

The anthology has contributions from an eclectic set of artistes from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh —musician Rabbi Shergill, dastangoi Mahmood Farooqui, artist Orijit Sen, writer Tabish Khair and artist Appupen, journalist Beena Sarwar and artist Bani Abidi.

From rehabilitation camps like the Geneva camp in Dhaka (‘Inside Geneva Camp’) and Ranaghat in West Bengal (‘The Taboo’), to how newsrooms document the acrimony beyond borders (The News), the anthology looks at how Partition has had a lasting effect on values and identities, besides documenting how violence plays out across generations.

‘A Letter from India’, taken from ‘Dastaan-e-Taqseem-e-Hind’, translated from the original by Mahmood Farooqui and illustrated by Fariha Rehman, deals with an old man grappling with the loss of values. A letter arrives from India in which the writer beseeches his son to tell him what is happening in Pakistan, while also expressing shock at a friend’s daughter who marries outside the family and “openly roams around in a motor car without a veil”. In ‘90 Upper Mall’, author Ahmad Rafay Alam and illustrator Matrand Khosla discover that the former’s family now lives in the same bungalow in Lahore that the latter’s family had vacated during Partition.

Only a few of the writers of the stories have experienced the Partition first-hand. Except for a few instances such as in ‘The Last Circus’ (which documents the life of Dasharath Singh, who was born in a travelling circus in Lahore to parents originally from Manila, and now lives in Bangalore) and ‘I Too Have Seen Lahore’ — by Salman Rashid and Mohit Suneja, where sardar Darshan Singh’s eyes light up at the mention of Lahore.

Where the anthology falters is in the patchy quality of the stories. While there are some brilliant ones like Mehreen Murtaza’s ‘The Bastards of Utopia’, in which the pain of bifurcation is shown through Siamese twins and becomes as complex as cutting up individuals, others like ‘An Old Fable’ by Tabish Khair and Priya Kuriyan, are a staid rehash of old stereotypes.

But having said that, This Side... is undoubtedly an important book for it reminds us that, to borrow a line from the book, “This is not how nations are made.”