In 2009, I spent five months living at the Aligarh Muslim University in the town of Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. I was there to research the role and experience of Aligarh students in the movement for Pakistan during the 1940s. As part of this research, I actively sought out university employees and former students of the university from that period. I was referred to S.M. Mehdi through a chance encounter with a university official and arrived at his home without an appointment.
Gandhi challenges biographers. The author must confront Gandhi’s prodigious writings, six decades of work as a political activist and social reformer, and importantly, his consecration as “Father of India” and international stature as Mahatma (Great Soul).Perhaps aware of this difficulty, Joseph Lelyveld sets himself a modest goal to “amplify rather than replace the standard narrative” of Gandhi’s life.
We are in the delivery room in Bombay, at midnight on August 14/15, 1947, the moment India and Pakistan are created as independent nations. Two children enter the world simultaneously, one Muslim, one Hindu, and their destinies will be determined by the timing of their birth.
Krishna Kumar’s study of school textbooks in Pakistan and India shows that the discipline of history in South Asia has “come under the strain of nation-building rather more than other subjects.” History teaching in these textbooks seeks to settle political and ideological points and guide children’s responses to present day situations.
Reading this compelling account of the partition of India in 1947, one is moved to ask: What were they thinking? Early accounts of the end of British rule in India concentrate on the high politics of the negotiations between the leaders of the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League, and a succession of Viceroys—ending with the striking and decisive Lord Mountbatten.
During the summer of 1857, Indian rebel soldiers from the British Army attempted to overthrow the British hold on India and reinstall Mughal rule. For five months, rebels seized Delhi and declared the aged Mughal noble, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Emperor of India. Referred to as the 1857 Mutiny by British rulers and as the First War of Independence by enthusiastic nationalists, few events in Indian history incite more passion than the 1857 seige of Delhi.
My own family hails from Aligarh, a city about 90 miles southeast of New Delhi and, as Muslims, opted to move to Pakistan. I was aware of this as a child, but because I grew up outside Pakistan, it was not until I began my research and had enough comfort speaking Urdu that I persuaded some of my elderly relatives to tell me their stories of the time of independence and partition.
I remember when we were in our old house, it was a big house, which is a big house with a big courtyard inside and a big garden outside. It was a big area. And we used to all sleep inside in the courtyard with all the beds laid out and mosquito nets and everything and one table fan for all of us because we used to be in a row, all the beds laid out.
In the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguard, the citizens of Delhi unleashed a murderous campaign of violence on the Sikh community as a whole. Delhi-ites were horrified to discover both the inaction of the local authorities to provide safety and security for citizens, and the failure of the media to report the atrocities taking place.