The Other Side of Silence

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I vividly remember the night when, for the first time, I saw somebody take their last breaths.

I was cycling back to home with a brick of ice-cream for my family waiting back at home when I saw a boy only four years older than me shivering on the road, surrounded by a gathering crowd, lying in a pool of blood. I stood transfixed until all movements ceased. I didn't tell anybody about it.

It has been seven years to that night. I've seen a few more deaths. All of them involuntarily. But none chilled me as that one. And yet, I don't speak about it. And that is why I relate so much with Ms Butalia's book describing the stories of partition. When she laments that people are even reluctant to talk about it, I nod along in tandem. Because I know when I can be so tight-lipped about that single incident, there is no comparison with those who've seen mass murders.

The fact instantly likeable about The Other Side of Silence is its honest brutality. It adheres to a tone of frankness that ropes the reader in. You know she's directly talking to you as she explains why she chose this kind of presentation for her stories. And when she narrates the tales, you can hear the rasp whispers of her interviewees.

If you're an Indian, it's almost impossible for you to not recognize the voices. They've always been around us. We just never took the pains to find out what stories they hide. And that is what makes all the difference.

When I started reading Silence, I was going through a rough period myself. And I believed that I will find inspiration in the stories I'm about to read. And while they weren't soothing, they took my mind off from the trivialities of life and put them exactly where Ms Butalia needed them. It's so easy for her to do that. Her writing doesn't seem forceful. It almost feels like she's writing as it's coming to her.

To accept my shortcomings, I am only a novice when it comes to studying history. I've never been able to know where to start. But now I don't think there's any turning back. I feel like I've been hiding all the time in the silly hope that what I don't know, wouldn't affect me. But now I am empowered with a knowledge that will lead me deeper in the search of a solution that could have prevented all that has happened.

Like me, many interviewees in her book were kids when they saw death. But unlike me, their experience was far more drastic. It is inconceivable that a father would go to the lengths of killing all the females in the family to save them from the trauma that lay ahead. It is more so difficult to discern what effect that must have had on the sons that watched him do it.

In the narration, it's visible that they are leading a simple life now. But it can't be that easy. Of course the events must have had an impact that changed them. I now wonder if my parents would have been brought up differently if their parents hadn't witnessed the horror. This affects all of the new generation growing along with me.  And this line of reasoning is what justifies Ms Butalia's strong resolution to help the women of our country.

As she peels away the layers obscuring the reasons of the unnatural murders in 'Honour', it was a natural choice for them back then. But, the scares come when I contemplate what I would have done if I were in that desperate father's place. Isn't that Ms Butalia's plan all along? Generating a wide-spread awareness about these issues by provoking readers to think about it with a mind broader than that of the leaders back then.

It is terrible the way religion created such a sharp divide amongst people who didn't feel it until the wall was exploited. It's hard to imagine that nobody would have realized the scale of disturbance, which is too light a word, it would cause, especially for the women involved. Except, of course, the innocent victims who had no idea about the bigger picture. Their thoughts began and ended with survival and only after that was achieved they spared some thoughts to what had happened of their country.

Ms Butalia has let me glance into a snippet she has captured of that time. I can dwell in it whenever I may, pick out any period that I want to and relive it again. It's not just the stories that matter. Designing a grand memory through those collection that anybody can access as if they were travelling back in time, that is the real art in her research. And probably that is why this has become a benchmark for me to judge all such books that I will read in the future.

I am glad to have been recommended the book. It is books like these that remind us what reading is about. And it is experiences like these that put us back on the curve of seeking knowledge that can change our lives.

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