Seventy-one years after partition, what is it like in the Indian towns and villages that border Pakistan and Bangladesh Does the pain of a bloodied migration, where over 14 million were displaced and over a million perished, still throb in the old scars Or was the Radcliffe Line just an imaginary one
These questions form the premise of Bishwanath Ghosh&rsquos fourth travel book, Gazing at Neighbours, for which he trotted along the borders for a month and a half. In such sensitive areas, you would expect curiosity to kill the cat, but, rather, the cat kills the curiosity. The book turns out to be refreshingly journalistic (and an excellent primer of good reportage), astutely observant and interspersed with well-written anecdotes, well-documented conversations and logically sound musings.
Ghosh&rsquos penchant for minor details are evident from the minute you dive into the narrative, which spends its first half along the Punjab border and second half along the Bangladesh one. He notices that the lady at the reception of his Amritsar hotel wears blue eyeshadow (and cheekily refers to her as Ms Blue Eyelids) or realises that he has been served a Murree Peach Malt (an import from Pakistan) at an Indian restaurant.
More than anything else, the book is Ghosh&rsquos sincere attempt to understand the partition. The story follows his enquiry into the subject, primarily through conversations with stakeholders such as BSF jawans, his drivers, farmers and chhit-dwellers&mdasheach a key piece of this puzzle. Soon, he realises that the &lsquowrecker-in-chief&rsquo of India wasn&rsquot one person, even if he does once name someone whose surname rhymes with Sinnah.
Ghosh himself muses on the partition. He presents ironies&mdashhow violence first bared its claws in Kolkata, but it was Punjab that bled the most. He presents conclusions&mdashhow the actual border doesn&rsquot exist, for the lands of all three countries merge seamlessly and its people coexist and how, soon, all survivors of the partition will be dead, and future generations will look at it with detachment. But with books such as this one, is that even possible