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January 17, 2017
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Where the River Parts- an Indo-Pak love story

By Shankar Chaudhry Published: February 2016
 

New Delhi. There is never a dull moment in the India-Pakistan relations. Alas, it is mostly for negative reasons; but sometimes something endearingly different comes along giving fresh hope. Mantoa’s writings were one such, Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan was another. Now as India and Pakistan are about to mark 70 years of the Partition we have a great new novel. Radhika Swarupa’s “Where the River Parts” pulls deep and hard at the heart strings. Daughter of a diplomat, Cambridge educated Swarup is a master crafter of words; carving each sentence to perfection. Where the River Parts is destined to become an epic, much like that famous Love Story of Erich Segal.

The plot is structured in such a way that on the one hand, the story is vivid and the voices clear as if the speakers were still alive. On the other, she leaves readers to draw their own conclusions about what it all means. The story seems right, because there is a historical spine to it – as if each of Swarup’s floating metaphors about damage and chaos are real and now.

The story centres around Asha, a Hindu girl, and her Muslim lover, Firoze, in a small town in Western
Punjab. The town falls the way of Pakistan during the Partition, and Asha has to flee to safety leaving behind Firoze. The descriptions – the fictional town of Suhanpur, the river Ravi that sets a steady beat for the novel, and the disturbing scenes Asha witnesses during her exodus – are sensitively rendered. Except for the name Suhanpur, all the other place names are real. Even Suhanpur makes you wonder if it is a disguise for Lyallpur. Swarup then takes us through the next half century.

Asha lives in Delhi and there the drama in her life is forever taking a new turn even as the events outside lead to a particularly acrimonious phase in the relations of the two countries. In these tensions Asha and Firoze meet again by chance. This reviewer will not give away the plot but suffice to say, the final scenes stay with you long after the last page is turned.

Spanning continents and generations, Where the River Parts is an epic tale of love, loss and longing. It is also a paean to hope and friendship. It is undoubtedly a mature and confident literary offering from a writer who has announced her arrival in the world of quality fiction with a great new novel. Simply put, “Where the River Parts” is a delightful read.

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