I’ll admit, I didn’t know how Pakistan became a country until I saw the latest season of Dr. Who. When Yasmin went into the past to learn a family secret I was, truthfully, a little stunned that I had lived this long unaware of the partitioning of India. How strange it is then that I had The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani waiting for me on my own bookshelf.
The Night Diary is the journal of twelve year old Nisha. She writes nightly to her Mama who died giving birth to Nisha and her twin brother, Amil. Her entries begin in July, 1947 and describe a childhood in India where Nisha’s daily life consists of going to school with the other girls, helping their cook, Kazi, make dinner, and playing with her brother. She lives a happy life with her physician Father and her Dadi. Nisha has as much trouble speaking her thoughts as her brother does reading his schoolwork. But her eloquent writing showcases a highly observant child who makes the perfect narrator for the dramatic changes to India during this time.
On midnight between the 14th and 15th of August 1947 India was partitioned into two countries, India for Hindus and Pakistan for Muslins. If you were living in certain sections of India and Hindu on August 14th you awoke on the 15th in Pakistan and a refugee. One of these refugee is writer Veera Hiranandani’s father who, along with his family, was forced to leave their home after partition.
“My childhood would always have a line drawn through it, the before and the after.”
In creating the character of Nisha and allowing us to see the upheaval of the world through her eyes, Ms. Hiranandani makes it clear that this history may be a half a world away but this experience is still relevant today at home. I thought it especially brilliant of the author to make Nisha’s father a physician with a critical job. Furthermore, her Father is Hindu and her Mother was Muslim. When you you have ties to everywhere how can you not belong? Why is just one part of you suddenly the only thing that matters? As her country redefines its identity, Nisha is struggling to figure out her own.
If you are trying to explain the refugee crisis and immigration issues of today to children, this book will help illuminate this historically complicated but still relevant problems. When a few people make decisions that affect so many others there will always be those who need our protection or our voices. Or, perhaps you just want to read a poignant, beautiful and eventually uplifting story. Either way I highly recommend The Night Diary.
Tell me, please!
Did you know the history of Pakistan?