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Book Review: Traitor by Rakshanda Jalil

There have been many books on the Indian partition themes by various authors like Amitava Ghosh, Khushwant Singh, and Gulzar over a period of time, i.e. from 1947 to up till now. Well, the books written before 1980s managed to capture the raw emotions and all those events that still make us uncomfortable and somehow guilty. And bringing the truth out in the best form was the priority of those books.


On the similar lines, is Traitor by Rakshanda Jalil. Well, the original title is Ghaddaar in Urdu written by Krishan Chander. Traitor is an English title – it’s a translated version, done by Rakshanda Jalil. No matter what, the intensity and value of the story never looked dull or went offbeat.

Let's take a peep into the novel. The story features only one main character, Baijnath. He is modern, educated, and hails from a well-to-do business family, from Lahore. Mind you, well before the partition of India into two nations, Lahore was a cultural capital of India. Trade, art, intellectualism and cinema all flourished there.

Baijnath is a modern man by all ways. His friends in Lahore are Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. They often hang out and indulge themselves into drinking and smoking and other tiny pleasure seeking activities on daily basis. However, in 1947, things begin changing. In the summer of 1947, Baijnath goes to his maternal grandparent's home, which lies far from Lahore, somewhere in the territory of Punjab. There he is romancing with a Muslim girl called Shahdaan, who is a college student in Lahore. On the other hand, Baijnath is married and have two children. Inter-religion love affair at the time of communal riots, just imagine the consequences.

The heat of partition turns into dreadful riots. Baijnath somehow goes back to Lahore in hope of being finding solace with his old friends. However, overnight the city has been changed into a Muslim-dominating city, and his friends are no longer the same people. He struggles there. Muslim people in search of Hindus, with an intention of killing them, begins hunting him. He is helped by one of his Muslim friends and thus he gets out of Lahore.

After that he comes to his forefather's land in Punjab, from here Muslims are going to newly created Pakistan. His family is destroyed, many members get killed. But Baijnath could not come up with the ongoing terms of reality. He is trying to escape the reality. While crossing bridges, Hindu and Muslim communities are killing each other. There is brutal bloodshed all around. Children are orphaned, women raped, and plundering is common. When Baijnath refuses to kill an old Muslim man, he is labelled as traitor by the head of the Hindu killing gang. Well, under pressure, he kills one old man who was carrying a small child in his hands. While killing that man, he sees his father-like face and features in that man. He fills up with guilt, however, when he thinks of his sister and child being lynched by the Muslim mob, his heart filled with hatred.

Through the character of Baijnath, we see that he is not someone who is morally or political inclined for partition. But when he gets in between, he is literally left with a few choices or no choice at all. More than Hindu and Muslim share, he is worried about losing his days spent at Lahore – those carefree days of childhood and youth, with friends and kin. Leaving the city or home where you have spent such time of life is rather painful than anything else. And because of this pain, Baijnath is internally disturbed, go into hiding for many days.

In fact, Baijnath is too small and timid-hearted to kill others. He was well educated and according to him, situations like partition was a waste of time and a tool to play with the lives of innocents. How a political event like partition result in destroying millions of people, is portrayed with a very closely studied character. 

Traitor is a powerful book which takes us into the horrible machinations of that time. Simple and peace-loving people never wish of getting rendered homeless overnight. The story is rich in illustration and managed to convey the exact portrayal of miserableness that people faced at the time of partition. Even in the translation version, the book never loses its sheen, and narrated in a lucid way.

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