13 June, 2021

Around Midnight

One virtue of this book is that every paragraph of it is redolent of the 1940s and to bring it up to date would require the composition of a completely new book.

Around Midnight
Phillips Talbot, president emeritus of the Asia Society in the United States, is the latest author to add his voice to the complex debates on India’s Partition. He saw it all—the progress and impact of the Second World War on the subcontinent, the bloody aftermath of Partition, and the dawn of Independence. What is more, he had the good sense to record his impressions, of historical figures and events alike, in the form of letters and reports.

Talbot revels in relating disturbances, violent incidents, Hindu-Muslim riots, and the follies of short-sighted politicians. His profiling of leaders is fascinating. He describes Jawaharlal Nehru as "a thorough-going socialist, though he unhesitatingly follows Gandhi in some most unsocialistic channels". He found Vallabhbhai Patel, by contrast, to be an "authoritarian, anti-Communist ‘iron man’." About M.A. Jinnah, wrote Talbot on July 22, 1947, "by sheer cerebral power he pushed himself and his community from strength to strength".

Strength or weakness? Today, as India and its neighbour Pakistan celebrate sixty years of...

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