'The Lines Of Separation' Tells A Thought-Provoking Tale Of Partition

Written by author Mini Nair, 'The Lines Of Separation' surfaces the story of three women living across borders, separated by lines drawn by men.

Mini Nair
New Update
Mini Nair
This excerpt is from the book 'The Lines Of Separation' written by Mini Nair. 

The book surfaces the story of three women living across borders, separated by lines drawn by men. The tale moves across Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. 


A name Rehana knew that she would not see her brother for a long time and also the thatched home and the flowers she loved so much. She had heard of other girls going to work in different cities of India and making money, lots of money. They threw airs when they returned to their tiny village.

These girls showed off their nails painted with blue or yellow nail polish and spoke with an urban accent. Rehana was fascinated by them.

She ran out to the paddy field where the green paddy waddled in the water and tried to catch a frog leaping in the water. Her long legs jumped in the air. Her hands moved delicately to catch the frog. She was painfully thin, and her eyes were sad and merged with the landscape as if she belonged there.

Wide-eyed and sad.


There was an underlying silence around her. A stillness. A silence that was depressing and that made a person cry. After many attempts, she gave up catching the frog. The air was laden with the smell of Shiuli. When Ma was alive, she and Ma would make strings of Shiuli into garlands and tie them around their wrists. The smell of ripened guava, banana and green grass filled her nostrils with the fragrance that she would call home. Red mud stuck on her feet and she tried to scrape it off with her hand. A sticky sort of alluvial mud that would be a part of her always. Bees buzzed around the fruits and she ran through unmindful of all. This was her happiest moment. Like a dragonfly fluttering its wings around.

Saikul came home the next day and stood in front of her house and called out for her father.

Shahnawaz came out and said, ‘Wait, father is saying his prayers.’

He went in and called out for father and said, ‘Saikul is waiting for you.’

Father finished his prayers, folded the mat and hurried out.

‘Make some tea for Saikul,’ father told Rehana.


Saikul frightened Rehana a bit. There was an air of unfriendliness around Saikul that she detected. Children are like personality detectors and they sense what adults cannot see.

After the normal greetings, ‘There’s a problem,’ said Saikul. Father was relieved hoping that his daughter would not have to leave and was also filled with fear that she may be doomed here.

“What?’ he asked.

‘She cannot go to India with a name like Rehana,’ Saikul said.

‘She has no passport. I must take her to India by boat and I will also have to bribe the officers at the Kolkata check post. As it is, you know, they are looking for Bangladeshi immigrants,’ Saikul continued.

Father looked stricken. He was a devout person who found solace in religion and had never done anything wrong.


‘No no no. She does not have to change her religion, only her name. She can say her prayers and be a good Muslim from inside, but she only has to have another name,’ Saikul explained.

Father thought about it. If she stayed back, then the future was bleak and starvation loomed. An impending impoverished life made father forget about religion and he gave in to Saikul.

‘What name do you want? Hema Malini, Rekha, Raakhee,’ Saikul asked jokingly.

The names were of popular Hindi film stars. Father did not say anything. Saikul looked at Rehana trying to read her. She sat with her head down and began drawing patterns in the mud with the toe of her leg.


‘Saraswati,’ said father.

‘Are you mad? Saraswati is their Goddess,’ said Saikul in disbelief.

By ‘their’ he meant the Hindus. Saikul was aware that if a Muslim girl had a name like Saraswati and it was discovered by the Hindus later then it could create issues. Saikul had Hindu friends in Kolkata and they owed allegiance to a right-wing party called Hindu United Front. It was a party that resorted to violence and was particularly targeting the Muslims in India. One of the missions of this outfit was to stop illegal Bangladeshi immigration.

Saikul punched on the keyboards of his phone and showed an image of the deity Saraswati to father. He saw an image of a serene woman sitting on a lotus with a book in one hand and in the other, a musical instrument.

‘My daughter is a Goddess,’ father replied.

How did father know so much about the Goddess? Rehana and her brother wondered.

‘Saraswati is also a river that is lost in India and is also the Goddess of learning,’ father said knowingly.

‘Do you like your new name? Saraswati?’ Saikul asked Rehana

Rehana looked at father expectantly. She loved her name. When Ma was alive she called out loudly, Rehana. The voice would reach Rehana’s ear when she was out in the grass chasing butterflies or eating tender leaves of the guava plant or munching on the tamarind that had fallen. Losing one’s name was like losing one’s self.

Father beckoned Rehana to his side and made her sit next to him. He patted her head and ran his hand through her hair. It felt rough to touch and looked brown. After Ma’s demise, no one had oiled or combed Rehana’s hair. Father was holding back his tears.

‘Do you know the Meghna River? Padma?’ Father asked.

Rehana nodded. Who did not know of these? Many times, it was their fury that doomed the villages.

‘The Padma is Ganga in India. And the Meghna... springs from the ice-clad mountains of the Himalayas. In Tibet,’ Father said looking lost.

‘And...?’ Shahnawaz prompted.

‘The river has different names in Tibet and China. I cannot remember it. However, it is the mighty Brahmaputra in India, Jamuna, here. The Jamuna then meets her old friend Padma and is then known as Meghna. And it is Meghna that immerses into the Bay of Bengal. Like a long-lost friend.’ Shah Nawaz and Rehana were spellbound by this narrative. The grandiosity of the majestic rivers birthing from the loins of the huge Himalayas and then flowing down to sustain or destroy fascinated them.

Father knew about all this because his family were fishermen when his land, in Cooch Behar, was a part of India. He would accompany his father and grandfather on the courses of these rivers and catch the river fish. Rohu, Hilsa, and Betki - silver-coloured fishes swam like silver coins in the water. The elders would take a tranche of the catch home and steam it with fresh mustard paste and turmeric in plantain leaves. Those were happier times.

When the war happened, father assumed incorrectly that all Muslims had to get out of India. Father and the elders made the journey to this land. They moved in a boat through the river Torsa along with the fish and watched their home and what was once their land become smaller and smaller and finally, it was ready to be erased from memory. Father had no recollection of when the Torsa became the river Kalijani. And the new home was where the Kalijani merged into the Jamuna.

Father knew that the name-changing rivers never change their characters. They loved, and they destroyed. And that explained why he was not perturbed when his daughter changed her name.

‘Tell us the story of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar,’ Shah Nawaz pleaded.

Father did not respond but remembered his ancestors narrating the story of the Maharaja.

A silence of displacement prevailed. Father’s life was like the river.

Coursed through.

Father was sure that Rehana’s life too would be like the river. Sometimes calm, sometimes angry, sometimes giving and sometimes taking. But the river was always there. It could not be ignored.

And thus, Rehana Abdul Sheikh became Saraswati.

One more river, that was about to get lost, in the large land of India.

And this story was a part of Subhadra’s, too

Suggested reading: How Durreen Shahnaz Is Helping Rural Bangladeshi Women Run Their Own Business

book excerpts Indian history stories of partition Mini Nair