The Padma Bhushan award winning author Yashpal himself played a dominant role in the quest for liberating India through revolutionary armed struggle. He embarked on his literary career in the barracks where he was imprisoned for 14 long years, continuing his zest for writing in Lucknow where he went on to author several short stories, essays, novels and reminiscences that mirrored his ideas of revolution, romance and gender equality. Jhootha Sach, his masterpiece of Hindi literature is a poignant portrayal of the partition scenario in India. The author brings history alive with his vivid character sketches, the teeming political unrest, the rampant religious intolerance that bound society and the violence and hatred that rent our country asunder. The mayhem in the city of Lahore, the senseless murders and the unbreakable spirit of the heroines of the tale – this then is the true history of our nation as it struggled with the demands for partition of Punjab and Bengal. It will strike a chord with the reader who wishes to gain a better insight into the then socio-economic position when thousands of displaced people strived to rebuild their lives with some semblance of normality, the resilience of the women who after having faced horrendous atrocities chose not to be bogged down by it but to stand up with renewed vigour to build themselves a better life. The author Anand, the son of Yashpal and his dentist wife and fellow revolutionary Prakashvati, sums it all up so beautifully in his very title -This is not that dawn.
The first half of the novel, titled “Homeland and Nation” opens the doors of Lahore to the reader taking him on a intimate tour of the gali where Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs resided in harmony before the splinters of partition devastated their very existence. We journey along with the enterprising Jaidev Puri and his sister Tara as they attempt to break free of the narrow minded and conservative outlook of their family and the people who reside in their gali. Jaidev is an aspiring journalist who with the power of his pen is forced to earn a pittance as a ghost writer after quitting his job with the Pairokaar newspaper rather than compromise his ideals. After the gali is plundered and burnt down the residents are on tenterhooks. Imprisoned, herded into a refugee camp, his liaison with Urmila, his editorship of Nazir, his subsequent wedding with Kanak, the compromise of his once high ideals - Jaidev’s character as the hero evolves with the story exposing human frailty. Tara’s character reveals her indomitable spirit as she breaks free from an unsuitable marriage only to be kidnapped by a goonda, rescued by Hafizji a highly regarded Muslim whose house she leaves on refusing to change her faith only to be locked up with five other Hindu women before being rescued by the Indian military. She works her way to the prestigious post of undersecretary with the Government of India and at the end finds true happiness with Dr. Pran Nath, the economic advisor to the Government. Parallel to Masterji’s family runs the story of Pandit Giridharilal, the owner of Naya Hind Publications and his three daughters, Kanta, Kanak and Kanchan. Choosing to wed Jaidev in the light of opposition from her well-intentioned brother-in-law Nayyar, a high court lawyer, Kanak stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Puri as they establish the paper Nazir. She walks out of her marriage with baby Jaya in her arms and strives to regain the independence and self-reliance she so valued, despite an initial hostile family atmosphere.
The racy second half of the novel aptly titled “The future of the Nation” traverses between Tara in Delhi, Kanak in Nainital and Puri in Jalandhar as they struggle to regain some semblance of peaceful living. The reader walks with Jaidev as he is forced to deliver thalis for a dhabba owner in order to survive. Pakistan begins evacuation of Hindus from Lahore, thousands abandon home and hearth to flee to Delhi. Mobs bent on murder and bloody revenge wreck havoc on innocent victims of communal violence. The sensitive portrayal of women treated badly by their husbands is commendable considering the period in which the incidents happen when husbands were treated on par with God– Tara, Banti, Sheelo and Kanak, who boldly puts a failed marriage behind her with the unstinting support of her aged father and goes on to be a successful journalist, teacher and translator. The underlying threads of justice, fairness and fearlessness in the light of family consideration and social pressures is admirably brought to light. On the other hand the philandering nature of Jaidev, the sacrilege of Somraj living with his sister-in-law, the communal harmony priorities of Asad, the conversion-centric Hafizji and the manipulations of Sood – the flaws of human nature heightens the intensity of the storyline.
At 1100 odd pages, this is not a book for light reading, it necessitates and demands that you pay heed to the forceful language, the gripping plotline, the deep resentment over the partition, the many lives torn apart by mindless savagery, the determination of the bold women who face their trials and tribulations with tears, yes, but also with nerves of steel. The book ends with a flourish stating that it is the people who hold the country’s future, something that strikes a chord in the light of the awakening we owe to Anna Hazare; words as true today as when Yashpal said so several years ago.