Celebrated UK-based painter-author Balraj Khanna was seven at the time of Partition and the traumatic event had such a deep impact on him that he said to himself then he would write a book about it one day.
And nearly 70 summers later, Khanna has come out with Line of Blood, which poignantly captures the pangs of the subcontinent’s vivisection.
Published by Palimpsest, the book is an evocation of the trauma and tension in the bordering areas of Punjab in the months before Partition in 1947 with dark and demonic passions pitted against the values of sanity and tolerance.
Khanna says the Partition affected his family in the small mostly Muslim town of Qadian (Ahmadi, now proscribed in Pakistan) horrendously and it was then that he decided to write about it one day when he grew up.
“I had to live all these years to write the account of the Punjab in the throes of Partition,” he says.
“In due course, it became clear to me that it would not be a political or historical tome, but one of total fiction dealing with common Indians – Hindus (in minority in that little town of Qadian circa 1947), Muslims and Sikhs – who had lived there as wonderfully adjusted neighbours,” he says.
“It was a genre more suited to my thinking and expression. My writing took decades to take the shape which ‘Line of Blood’ has recently assumed,” Khanna said.
The characters in Line of Blood are real and some of them are his immediate family members. The events are totally based on his recollection. He didn’t do any research work for his book except what he read about that tragic period in world history.
Khanna says now the events relating to Partition do not haunt him as such.
“But I continue to be amazed and disturbed by the fact of it, that is, by the dangerously supine attitudes of our leaders of the time that they allowed it to happen with their eyes wide open. Perhaps they were shut,” he says.
Asked what effect the artist in him has on his writings, he says, “As an artist, I tend to think in colours largely.
Events acquire pigmentations of their own. Joy and happiness come in combinations of primary colours largely. Sadness and sorrow bring heavy colours like black, blue, grey and deep tertiaries.”
Khanna won the Winifred Holtby Prize in 1984 for Nation of Fools, which was adjudged one of the best 200 novels in English since 1950 in The Modern Library by Carmen Callil and Colm Toibin. As an artist, he has been compared with Paul Klee and Joan Miro.