Set more than a decade after the India-Pakistan Partition, Hindu Refugee Camp, Lahore chronicles the stories of people whose lives have been permanently altered by the devastation that swarmed over the lands.
One of my favourite aspects of this book is that the events in the lives of the two main characters, Ghulam Ali and Zahira, are narrated through a series of letters that they write to each other – with the former being trapped in the refugee camp in Lahore and the latter living in Lucknow.
While there is a distinct plot that shapes the developments occurring throughout the chapters, the narrative frequently branches out in different directions, giving us a glimpse of Ali’s acquaintances, their struggles, Zahira’s family story, how Ali came to be a limb-fitter, etc.
So it’s not just flashbacks that you get to read but also parallel storylines that ultimately affect the conclusion of Ali and Zahira’s stories.
This being my first Sachin Garg book, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of writing. While I appreciated the depth with which the author has covered the significance of the Partition, I felt that the language used was, at times, quite crude. This made the reading experience off-putting for me.
Moreover, I noticed that there were lapses in the editing.
Some of the themes that are interspersed in the story are religious tension, police brutality, political inefficiencies, arranged marriages, filial separation, to name a few.
Fatima’s character got on my nerves frequently. She comes across as a bratty, inconsiderate lady whose only concern is about her own well-being for the most part.
Even Ali’s character, in the beginning, displays double standards. Despite receiving aid at the refugee camp (at the mercy of others), he looks down on people, uses derogatory terms to address them, and is blind to his own hypocrisy.
I quickly realized that I wouldn’t like most of the characters in the book. Rather, their plight and battles were what prevented me from DNF-ing the novel.
Reading about how the colonial powers and other leaders’ actions have marred the lives of hundreds of thousands of people is truly heartrending. It fills you with such despair to learn how expendable the common-man is considered to be in the eyes of the power-hungry.
The story picks up pace quickly around the two-third mark, with a lot of incidents propelling the ending.
On the whole, the novel sends a strong message about human resilience, and I applaud the author for embarking on a journey of writing such difficult yet important stories. I would’ve appreciated reading it more had the writing style and characterization been improved.