Dhaka, Bangladesh
Along a hand-drawn line

Along a hand-drawn line

Singer and Magsaysay Award Winner TM Krishna released Bishwanath Ghosh's latest book Gazing At Neighbours - Travels Along The Line That Partitioned India (Westland) at an event organised by the Madras Book Club at the GRT Convention Centre on Wednesday. This is Ghosh's fourth book, and focusses on the lives of the simple people living on the Radcliffe Line in Punjab and the Indian regions surrounding Bangladesh. "It took exactly two years to write," said Ghosh, "In August 2015, I was travelling for it in Punjab, and in August 2017, it was ready." Ghosh said that as a writer, he had been on the lookout for subjects that have not been covered before. "The horror stories of Partition - on both sides of the border - have been done, but what about the border itself? The Partition border, in Punjab and drawn around Bangladesh, inflicted a lot of pain," he said. Ghosh noted that he was surprised to see no hostility at all in the places he visited. "All I saw was a line of villages... the landscape was the same, the green of the paddy was the same on both sides," he said, adding, "Anti-Pakistan slogans are usually raised 1,000 miles away from the border, in Mumbai. Those on the border see it as all the same." TM Krishna introduced the author at the beginning of the event, and brought up the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru earlier this week, stressing, "It is very relevant to tonight. It is not the first time that this has happened, nor is it going to be the last - but something about last night gutted me. People being killed over their thoughts, their religion and their food is disturbing. More alarming are the reactions to it that we see on social media. Things like culture and music become useless and vulgar if we don't respond to things like this. Which is why, this book is a release." Author Sriram V, who was presented with the first copy of the book, reminded the audience that the generation that had lived through Partition was no longer alive to recount its experiences. He described some vivid first-person accounts that he had heard, and commended Ghosh for the book's equal focus on Bangladesh. "We tend to forget that East Pakistan had a bloodier history. Only when you focus on that region do you realise just how complicated the border is there," he said. He also spoke of Chennai's tryst with Partition and the Partition committee, informing the audience of the Punjabi refugees who were brought into the city, to a refugee camp in Gill Nagar. Poet and author Sharanya Manivannan read out some excerpts from the book: a chapter on Ghosh's visit to a farming family in Punjab, who have to cross the barbed wire of the border everyday to get to their fields for their daily labour. The family's communication with the BSF jawans, and their cordial but deliberately offhand relationship with neighbouring Pakistani farmers, highlighted Ghosh's point about a lack of hostility. City chronicler and historian-activist S Muthiah conducted the proceedings, commending Ghosh on his style of writing. "His books are as simple as possible, which makes it - to me - beautiful reading," he said.

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