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MIDNIGHT'S BORDERS: A People's History of Modern India by Suchitra Vijayan book review

  • Written by  Katie Burton
  • Published in Books
MIDNIGHT'S BORDERS: A People's History of Modern India by Suchitra Vijayan book review
02 Jul
2021
by Suchitra Vijayan • Melville House

Barrister, journalist and photographer Suchitra Vijayan set herself an intimidating task with Midnight’s Borders: that of cataloguing all of India’s borders. It took her seven years to do it, flying back and forth to the country she was born in. What results is not a happy tale. Be it the border with Myanmar, where the Naga people live within a never-ending conflict; the fraught and inhospitable terrain between India and China; the increasingly fenced and policed border with Bangladesh; or the border with Pakistan where ‘the indignities of daily life and palpable sense of loss experienced during partition are still alive and well’, Vijayan meets people whose lives are dominated by and made worse by borders.

This is an unflinching and provocative account, clearly told by an author who has spent much of her career working in the human rights sphere. Again and again, she emphasises that not only are these borders harmful, they have always been ill thought-out and often pointless. Take the Sundarbans, a shifting delta full of mangroves split by the border with Bangladesh: ‘How could the Sundarbans, a forest that transforms with every rain, every high tide and monsoon, be partitioned?’

This is often a poignantly sad accumulation of stories and Vijayan meets and speaks to many badly affected people. Nevertheless, there are still motifs of hope, often in the form of children, who in one memorable scene come together from opposite sides to play cricket whenever the border guards turn their backs.

Given how quickly things can change on India’s borders, and given the time span of Vijayan’s journey, this isn’t an up to date account of India’s geopolitical situation, nevertheless it communicates very clearly the perils of living in a divided land and the challenges still facing this vast and fractured country.

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