PLOT: 4/5

“The year is 1947. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.”

― Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Independence

I don’t read historical fiction as such and prefer contemporary stories, but the plot of this one, along with the fact that this was set during the partition of India, was one thing that surely drew me in.

The plot

Set during the time of the partition of India, in a rural village in Bengal, Independence narrates the tales of three sisters – Priya, Deepa, and Jamini. They are the daughters of the respected village doctor, Nabhkumar.

Deepa, the most beautiful and eldest, is eager to enhance her family’s status and happiness by marrying into the right kind of family.

Jamini, who is the perfectionist of the family, is keen-eyed and smart but somehow always remains in the shadows. She is a quilt maker who assists her mother in this enterprise which they then use to make money on the side. Jamini is passionate and intense but she often doesn’t reveal her deepest desires.

Priya is the youngest of the three and the most intelligent too. She has high ideals and even higher aspirations, wanting to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor just like him, except that the then-male-dominated society frowns upon it.

Their happy and sheltered family suddenly breaks apart when their father Nabhkumar is killed during a riot and they find themselves all alone, in a situation so terrible that even their neighbours have turned against them.

The lives of all three sisters change drastically overnight and the events that have been affecting the country suddenly have an impact on them too.

Priya is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps and pursue her dreams, with her career taking up most of her time and effort. Meanwhile, amidst growing unrest in the country, Deepa falls in love with Raza who is Muslim and this alienates her from her mother and sisters.

Jamini is left behind, all alone to hold her family together, wanting to keep it together but all the while secretly hoping to find love with her sister’s fiancé.

On the macro front, the partition of India is now a known reality. It has been officially decided, with India meant as a country for Hindus and Pakistan being carved as a separate nation for Muslims.

As if pulled by destiny in different directions, all three sisters are now separated and a once-happy family is now disjoint, with each of them leading a different path that remains unknown to the others.

Will the three sisters ever reunite?

When one sister finds herself in danger will the others be there to help her and if yes, then that help will come at what cost? Will it be too late?

My thoughts 

First up, Independence is a well-written story. Told in alternative POVs of all three sisters, Ms. Chitra’s use of prose in each and every scene will suck you in deep, and make you imagine and feel vividly while transporting you to the very scene of action.

She is a masterful storyteller, there is no doubt about it, and once you start reading you won’t be able to stop.

Plotwise, I haven’t read much from this particular time period in history, and hence for me, it was a different experience, one that I enjoyed thoroughly and wholeheartedly. 

The plot is well-researched, especially in terms of the political unrest happening at the time in the state of Bengal. It’s not very heavy in history and with a good story, it manages to keep things balanced between the fictional narrative and the historical one.

The use of short poems in Bengali translated into English conveys the sentiment quite well.

The characterization of each sister, their characters, and their development is thoroughly done. They are all unique, and have their distinct personalities, with shades of grey making the reading very dynamic.

As a reader, you root for all three of them at least once throughout the book if not always, as they do make such drastic and harsh decisions without any care or concern for others. The despair, anguish, uncertainty, hope, and above all love are so well etched that it stays with you for a while after you finish reading.

I just felt that the book took its time to set the pace, first giving a detailed history and setting the stage for what’s happening. The climax, however, could have been a little more detailed and stretched out further, as I felt that it was too neatly tied up.

In quite a few places, I felt that this book was targeted more at Western audiences as some situations from the point of view of an Indian living during that time period were a little exaggerated.

But, in spite of this, from a story and entertainment point of view, Independence is a really good book and I would definitely recommend it to those interested in reading an Indian story set during the time of partition of India.

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Independence using the link below.