Book Review: Gazing At Neighbours

Book Review: Gazing At Neighbours
The cover of Bishwanath Ghosh's Gazing At Neighbours,

In this Bishwanath Ghosh special, read what it is like to travel along the lines of partitioned India seventy-one years after independence

Manek S. Kohli
September 13 , 2018
01 Min Read

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’s 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’s 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’s 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—each a key piece of this puzzle. Soon, he realises that the ‘wrecker-in-chief’ of India wasn’t one person, even if he does once name someone whose surname rhymes with Sinnah.

Ghosh himself muses on the partition. He presents ironies—how violence first bared its claws in Kolkata, but it was Punjab that bled the most. He presents conclusions—how the actual border doesn’t 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?

Related Articles

Let it Roll, Baby, Roll

Prannay Pathak July 04 , 2021

Here to there

Explore Directions(Routes) and more...
to Go

Other Editions

Outlook’ is India’s most vibrant weekly news magazine with critically and globally acclaimed print and digital editions. Now in its 23rd year...

Explore All
  • Check out our Magazine of the month
  • Offbeat destinations
  • In-depth storytelling
  • Stunning pictures
  • Subscribe