‘The responsibility for governing India has been placed by the inscrutable decree of providence upon the shoulders of the British race.’

Rudyard Kipling

‘The loss of India would be final & fatal to us. It could not fail to be part of a process that would reduce us to the scab of a minor power.’

Winston Churchill

February 1931

‘Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, & now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge … At the stroke of the midnight hour, while the world sleeps, India will awake to life & freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, & when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance …’

Jawaharlal Nehru

August 14, 1947

January 1947

Over 2 million Britons were unemployed. There were severe power cuts in Britain. For the eighth year there was severe rationing of food, fuel, drinks, energy, shoes, clothing. ‘Starve & shiver,’ had become the byword of a people who’d defeated Hitler proclaiming ‘V for victory’ & ‘Thumbs up.’

John Maynard Keynes had told his countrymen, ‘We are a poor nation & we must learn to live accordingly.’

And yet a small island of 50 million people was the most powerful nation on earth. A British passport would guarantee entry to a quarter of the Earth’s surface. No other people in the world enjoyed such a privilege.

Clement Attlee of the Labour party was the then PM, was disparaged by Winston Churchill as ‘a modest man with much to be modest about.’

Attlee named Louis Mountbatten (Queen Victoria’s great- grandson) as the Viceroy of India. Attlee had decided to let Britain leave India in good time rather than be driven out by the forces of history & armed rebellion. The root of the problem was the age old antagonism between India’s 300 million Hindus & 100 million Muslims. This antagonism was exacerbated by Britain’s own policy of Divide & Rule. The Muslims wanted an Islamic state of their own; the Hindus opposed this. All this was conveyed to Attlee by the Viceroy, Field Marshall Sir Archibald Wavell.

Mountbatten knew he was condemned to become India’s last Viceroy, the executioner, in a sense, of his countrymen’s fondest imperial dream.

India represented an amalgam of races & religions, languages & cultures, of a diversity & contrast unmatched on the globe. Theirs was a land of supreme spiritual attainment & the most debasing misery on earth, a land whose greatest riches were its paradoxes, whose people were more fertile than its fields; a land obsessed by God & beset with natural calamities unsurpassed in cruelty & dimension ; a land of past accomplishment & present concern whose future was compromised by problems more taxing than those confronting any other assembly of humans on earth. It was a nation of 275 million Hindus, 70 million of them Untouchables; 35 million Muslims, 7 million Christians; 6 million Sikhs; 100,000 Parsees & 24000 Jews.

India had a leper population the size of Switzerland, as many priests as there were Belgians in Belgium, enough beggars to populate all of Holland, 11 million holy men, 20 million aborigines, some like the Nagas of Nagaland still hunting human heads. 10 million Indians were essentially nomads, exercising hereditary occupations as snake charmers, fortune tellers, gypsies, jugglers, water diviners, magicians, tight-rope walkers, herb vendors, which kept them constantly moving from village to village. 38000 Indians were born everyday, a quarter of them to die before the age of five. 10 million other Indians died each year from malnutrition, under nourishment &diseases like smallpox eradicated from most parts of the world.

It was the most intensely spiritual area in the world; birthplace of one great religion, Buddhism; motherland of Hinduism; deeply influenced by Islam; a land whose Gods came in a bewildering array of forms & figures; whose religious practices ranged from yoga & the most intensive meditation of which the human spirit was capable, to animal sacrifices & debauched sexual orgies performed in clandestine jungle temples. The pantheon of the Hindus contained over 3 million deities, a God for every mythic manifestation & practical need imaginable. There were Gods & Goddesses for the dance, poetry, song; for death, destruction & disease; Gods like Markhai Devi at whose feet goats were sacrificed to check cholera epidemics, &Gods like Deva Indra who was begged to give his faithful carnal capacities akin to those displayed on India’s great temple friezes. God was held manifest in banyan trees, in India’s 136 million monkeys, in the heroes of her mythological epics, in her 200 million sacred cows; worshipped in her snakes, particularly cobras, who each year killed 20,000 of the humans who venerated them. India’s sects included Zoroastrians, descendents of ancient Persia’s fire worshippers, & Jains, a Hindu offshoot whose adherents in the land of the world’s lowest life expectancy, held all existence so sacred that they refused to eat meat & most vegetables, & went about with a gauze mask so that they would not inadvertently inhale & kill an insect.

83% of her population was illiterate. Her per capita income averaged 5 cents a day & a quarter of the people in her two great cities ate, slept, defecated, fornicated, & died in their streets. India received an annual rainfall of 114 cms a year, but her skies unleashed it in an appalling inequality of time & space. Most came in the drenching downpour of the monsoon & over a third of it ran unused in the sea. 300,000 square kilometres of her land, an area the size of east & west Germany combined, got no rain at all, while other areas got so much water that the salt table was almost at the earth’s surface rendering its cultivation extremely difficult.

The British rulers had made no effort to industrialize her. Her exports were almost exclusively commodities: jute, cotton, tobacco. Most of her machinery had to be imported. India’s per capita consumption of electricity was laughably low, one two hundredth that of the US. Her soil contained at least a tenth of the world’s reserves of iron ore but her steel production was barely a million tons a year She had 3800 miles of coastline & a fishing industry so primitive she couldn’t even offer her population a pound of fish per capita a year.

History’s most grandiose accomplishments can have the most trivial origins. Due to a small hike in the price of pepper, a few merchants of Britain formed the East India Company in 1599. It had a capital of Sterling Pounds 72,000 with 125 shareholders. It was assigned trading rights with all countries beyond the Cape of Good Hope by Queen Elizabeth I for 15 years.

A 500 ton galleon named the Hector dropped anchor in Surat on 24 August 1600. William Hawkins, the captain of the Hector was a dour old seaman, more pirate than explorer. He found himself face to face with Emperor Jehangir, a sovereign beside whom Queen Elizabeth appeared a ruler of a provincial hamlet. ‘Trade not territory’, the Company’s officers never ceased repeating, was their policy.

Thus began the irreversible process which would lead England to conquer India almost by inadvertence. On 23 June 1757, marching through a drenching rainfall at the head of 900 Englishmen of the 39th Foot & 2000 Indian sepoys an audacious general named Robert Clive routed the army of a troublesome Nawab in the rice paddies outside a Bengali village named Plassey. Clive’s victory opened the gates of northern India. With it, the British conquest of India truly started. Their merchants gave way to the builders of the empire; and territory, not trade, became the primary concern of the British in India. The century that followed was one of conquest. Although they were specifically instructed by London to avoid ‘schemes of conquest & territorial expansion’, a succession of ambitious governor generals relentlessly embraced the opposite policy. In less than a century a company of traders was metamorphosed into a sovereign power, its accountants & traders into generals & governors, its race for dividends into a struggle for imperial authority. Without having set out to do so, Britain had become the successor to the Moghul Emperors.

From the outset, her intent was always one day to relinquish the possessions she had so inadvertently acquired. As early as 1818, the Marquis of Hastings noted: ‘A time, not very remote, will arrive, when England will, on sound principles of policy, wish to relinquish the domination which she has gradually & unintentionally assumed over this country.’

The savage mutiny of 1857 brought an abrupt change in the manner in which Britain governed India. After 258 years of fruitful activities, the East India company’s existence was terminated. Responsibility for the destiny of 300 million Indians was transferred to the 39 year-old woman, Queen Victoria. Henceforth, Britain’s authority was to be exercised by the crown, represented in India by a kind of nominated king ruling a fifth of humanity, the Viceroy.

Ultimately, responsibility was exercised at any given time by a little band of brothers, 2000 members of the ICS, & 10,000 British officers of the Indian Army. Their authority over 300 million people was sustained by 60,000 British soldiers & 200,000 men of the Indian Army.

India was a vast system of outdoor relief for Britain’s upper classes.

It represented challenge & adventure, & its boundless spaces & arena in which England’s young men could find a fulfilment their island’s more restricted shores might deny them.

They arrived on the docks of Bombay at 19 or 20, barely able to raise a stubble on their chins. They went home 35 or 40 years later, their bodies scarred by bullets, by disease, a panther’s claws or a fall on the polo field, their faces ravaged by too much sun & too much whisky, but proud of having lived their part of a romantic legend.

By the time they were 24 or 25, they often found themselves with sole responsibility for handing down justice to & administering the lives of a million or more human beings, in areas sometimes larger than Scotland.

Golf was introduced in Calcutta in 1829, 30 years before it reached New York.

From 1918 recruiting for the ICS became increasingly difficult. Indian were accepted into the ranks both of the ICS & the officers corps.

On New year’s Day 1947, barely a 1000 British members of the ICS remained in India, still somehow holding 400 million people in their administrative grasp.

Mahatma Gandhi

He had humbled Great Britain by sipping water & bicarbonate of soda.

To the British bureaucrats whose hour of departure he had hastened, he was a conniving politician, a bogus Messiah whose non-violent crusade always ended in violence & whose fasts unto death always stopped short of death’s door. Even a man as kind-hearted as Wavell, detested him as ‘malevolent old politician . . . shrewd, obstinate, domineering, double-tongued’, with little saintliness in him.

Few of the English who’d negotiated with Gandhi had liked him; fewer still had understood him.

Wherever Gandhi went, it was said, there was the capital of India.

“You shall have to divide my body before you divide India,” he had proclaimed again &again.

Rabindranath Tagore conferred the title of “Mahatma” on Gandhi.

Islam & Hinduism

Where Islam reposed on a man, the Prophet, & a precise text, the Koran, Hinduism was a religion without a founder, a revealed truth, a dogma (opinions on religious matters laid down assertively), a structured liturgy (ritual) or a churchly establishment. For Islam, the Creator stood apart from his creation, ordering & presiding over his work. To the Hindu, the Creator & his creation was one & indivisible, & God a kind of all pervading cosmic spirit to whose manifestations there would be no limit.

The Hindu, as a result, worshipped God, in almost any form he chose: in animals, ancestors, sages, spirits, natural forces, divine incarnations, the Absolute. He could find God manifested in snakes, phalli, water, fire, the planets & the stars.

To the Muslim, on the contrary, there was but one God, Allah, & the Koran forbade the Faithful to represent him in any shape or form. Idols or idolatry to the Muslim were abhorrent; paintings & statues blasphemous. A mosque was a spare, solemn place in which the only decorations permitted were abstract designs & the repeated representations of the 99 names of God.

Idolatry was Hinduism’s natural form of expression & a Hindu temple was the exact opposite of a mosque. It was a kind of spiritual shopping centre, a clutter of goddesses with snakes coiling from their heads, six-armed Gods with fiery tongues, elephants with wings talking to the clouds, jovial little monkeys, dancing maidens & squat phallic symbols.

Muslims worshipped in a body, prostrating themselves on the floor of the mosque in the direction of Mecca, chanting in unison their Koranic verses. A Hindu worshipped alone with only his thoughts linking him & the God he could select from a bewildering pantheon of 3 to 3.5 million divinities. It was a jungle so complex that only a handful of humans who’d devoted their lives to its study could find their way through it. At its core was a central trinity: Brahma the Creator; Shiva the Destroyer; Vishnu the Preserver – positive, negative, neutral forces eternally in search, as their worshippers were supposed to be, of the perfect equilibrium, the attainment of the Absolute. Behind them were Gods & goddesses for the seasons, the weather, the crops & the ailments of man.

The greatest barrier to the Hindu-Muslim understanding, however, was not metaphysical but social. It was the Hindu caste system.

After the collapse of the Mughal Empire, the Hindus did not forget that the mass of the Muslims were the descendents of the Untouchables who’d fled Hinduism to escape their misery. Caste Hindus would not touch food in the presence of a Muslim. A Muslim entering a Hindu kitchen would pollute it.

In 1947, India had the largest population of cows, about 200 million. This was about 1 cow for every 2 Indians & larger than the human population of the US. About 100 million roamed the fields & streets. To the Muslims the thought that a man could so degrade himself as to worship a dumb animal was repugnant.

The Muslims thought that in an independent India, they would be drowned by Hindu majority rule, condemned to the existence of a powerless minority in the land their Mughal forebears had once ruled.

On Jan 23rd 1933, a forty-year-old Indian Muslim, Rahmat Ali, at Cambridge, proposed the idea of a Muslim nation to be carved from the provinces of Punjab, Sind, Kashmir, Baluchistan, the Frontier. He even named it Pakistan.

The Great Calcutta killings of Muslims & Hindus took place on August 16, 1946. Calcutta belonged to the vultures. Jinnah commented: ‘We shall have India divided or we shall have India destroyed.’

Louis Mountbatten

Great grand son of Queen Victoria I his family lineage, with one passage through the female line, went back to Emperor Charlemagne. He was, or had been , related by blood or marriage to Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II, Alfonso XIII of Spain, Ferdinand I of Rumania, Gustav VI of Sweden Constantine I of Greece, Haakon VII of Norway & Alexandra I of Yugoslavia.

He was just 43 when Winston Churchill appointed him Supreme Allied Commander Southeast Asia. His marriage to Edwina Ashley, a beautiful & wealthy heiress, with the Prince of Wales as his best man, was the social event of 1922.

He became the 20th & final representative of a prestigious dynasty whose members had been Hastings, Wellesley, Cornwallis & Curson.

He never wanted India to be divided. He looked on India’s unity as the greatest single legacy Britain could leave behind. To respond to the Muslim appeal to divide the country was, he believed, to sow the seeds of tragedy. He wanted the world to know the British had made every effort possible to keep India united. If Britain failed it was of the utmost importance that the world knew it was, ‘Indian opinion rather than a British decision that had made partition the choice.’ He himself thought a future Pakistan was so inherently unviable that it ‘should be given a chance to fail on its own demerits’, so that later ‘the Muslim League could revert to a unified India with honour.’

He had predicted that East Bengal would be out of Pakistan in about 25 years. The Bangladesh war of 1971 was to confirm his prediction with just one year to spare.

When the news of Edwina’s death was announced on the floor of the Indian Parliament, its members rose to offer her memory the spontaneous tribute of a moment of silence.


He had been sent to England at sixteen to finish his education. He spent seven gloriously happy years there, learning Latin verbs & cricket at Harrow, studying science, Nietzsche & Chaucer at Cambridge, admiring the reasoning of Blackstone at the Inns of Court.

Vallabhai Patel

Patel’s vocation for Indian nationalism had come from his father who’d gone off to fight the British at the side of a local warlord in the 1857 Mutiny. He studied at night, saved almost every rupee he earned until, at 33, he was able to send himself to London to study the law. He was a natural rival to Nehru & their ideas of what independent India should be were markedly different. He dismissed Nehru’s Utopian dream of building a new society. He believed that Capitalist society worked, the problem was to Indianize it. He came from an industrial town, a centre for machines, factories & textiles. Nehru came from a place where they grew flowers & fruit.

On April 13th 1919, Brig. R.E. Dyer with 50 soldiers fired 1650 rounds for a full ten minutes in the compound of the Jallianwalla Bagh. Their bullets killed or wounded 1516 people. This was the turning point in the history of Anglo Indian relations, more decisive than even the Indian Mutiny 63 years before.

(Dyer was reprimanded for his actions & asked to resign from the army. He was, however allowed to retain full pension benefits & other rights due to him. His action was applauded by most of the British in India. In clubs all across the country his admiring countrymen took up a collection on his behalf, amassing the then prodigious sum of Sterling 26,000 to ease the rigours of a pre-mature retirement.)

Gandhi turned to taking control of the Congress Party (which was ironically founded by a Britisher, Octavian Hume who sought to create an organisation which would canalise the protests of India’s slowly growing educated masses into a moderate, responsible body prepared to engage in gentlemanly dialogue with India’s English rulers.)

He organised hartals everywhere.

Above all, his aim was to weaken the edifice of British power in India by attacking the economic pillar upon which it reposed. Britain purchased raw Indian cotton for extremely low prices, shipped it to the mills of Lancashire to be woven into textiles, then shipped the finished product back to India to be sold at a substantial profit in a market which virtually excluded non-British textiles.


He started his career teaching Hindu-Muslim unity. The idea of an Islamic state, Pakistan, was first mooted by one Mr. Rahmat Ali in 1933. Jinnah had rejected the idea as “an impossible dream.”

His family came from Gandhi’s Kathiawar peninsula. Indeed, had not his grandfather for some obscure reason become a convert to Islam, the two political foes would have been born into the same caste.

He loved oysters & caviar, champagne, brandy & good claret. He was a man of unassailable personal honesty & financial integrity. He was a brilliantly successful lawyer & for a decade worked to keep the Hindus & Muslims of Congress united in a common front against the British.

The only thing Muslim about Mohammed Ali Jinnah was his parents’ religion. He drank, ate pork, religiously shaved his beard every morning & just as religiously avoided the mosque each Friday. His political foe, Gandhi knew more verses of the Koran than he did. He hardly knew any Urdu.

Jinnah despised India’s masses. He detested the dirt, heat, the crowds of India. Gandhi travelled India in filthy third-class railway carriages to be with the people. Jinnah rode first-class to avoid them.

He was almost six feet tall but weighed barely 120 pounds. He was a frail sick man (in 1947) & in the words of his physician, had been living for 3 years on “ will-power, whisky & cigarettes.”

But no one, friend or foe, would ever accuse Jinnah of lack of will-power.

The Muslims of India, Jinnah insisted, were a nation with a “ distinctive culture & civilisation, language & literature, art & architecture, laws & moral codes, customs & calendar, history & traditions. India has never been a true nation. It only looks that way on the map. Every time a Hindu shakes hands with me, he has to wash his hands. The only thing the Muslim has in common with the Hindu is his slavery to the British.”

And yet Jinnah would argue with Mountbatten: “ I want the Punjab & Bengal to be a part of Pakistan even though they had large number of Hindus. Your excellency doesn’t understand. A man is a Punjabi or a Bengali before he is Hindu or Muslim. They share a common history, language, culture & economy. You must not divide them. You will cause endless bloodshed & misery.”

Mountbatten would argue: “ India could achieve greatness with her 400 million people of different races & creeds bound together by a Central Union Government, with all the economic strength that would accrue to them from increased industrialisation playing a great part in world affairs as the most progressive, single entity in the Far East?”

He later recalled: “ I never would have believed that an intelligent man, well educated, trained in the Inns of Court was capable of simply closing his mind as Jinnah did. It wasn’t that he didn’t see the point. He did, but a kind of shutter came down. He was the evil genius in the whole thing. The others could be persuaded but not Jinnah. While he was alive, nothing could be done. He was a psychopathic case, hell bent on this Pakistan.”

Nehru & Gandhi each spent a total of a decade or so behind bars. Jinnah did not spend a single night in jail.

Jinnah was incapable of announcing to his followers in a language that they could understand the news that he had won them a state. He had to tell India’s Muslims of the ‘momentous decision’ to create an Islamic state on the sub-continent in English, concluding with the words “Pakistan Zindabad’. ( A number of listeners failed to understand that final shift from English to Urdu & thought Jinnah had cried: ‘Pakistan’s in the bag!’) An announcer then read his words in Urdu. There were no flags of Pakistan in the new state in Dacca, capital of its eastern wing, but everywhere there were pictures of the leader who’d never visited its soil.

Dina, the only child of Jinnah, had been unable to decide to which country she wished to belong, the land of her birth, or the Islamic nation created by her father.

Jinnah himself celebrated independence by assuming full powers for his supposedly ceremonial office. In the year of life remaining to him, the London-trained lawyer who for years had not ceased to proclaim his faith in the constitutional process would govern his new nation as a dictator.

On Gandhi’s death, Jinnah commented: ‘He was one of the greatest men produced by the Hindu community.’ When one of Jinnah’s assistants, reviewing the text with him, suggested Gandhi’s dimensions were greater than his own community, Jinnah insisted: ‘No, that’s what he was – a great Hindu.


It was a para-fascist (a belief in the supremacy of one ethnic group over others, a contempt for democracy, an insistence for obedience to a powerful & absolute leader) movement. They were desperately pained by the division of India. They cherished a historic dream to reconstitute a great Hindu empire from the headwaters of the Indus river to Eastern Burma, from Tibet to Cape Comorin. They despised Gandhi & all his works. To them, India’s national hero was the arch-enemy of Hinduism. The doctrine of non-violence with which he had led India to independence was in their eyes a coward’s philosophy. There was no place in their dreams for the brotherhood & tolerance of India’s Muslim minority preached by Gandhi. They considered themselves, as Hindus, the sole heirs to India’s Aryan conquerors & therefore the rightful proprietors of the sub-continent. The Muslims, they held, were descendents of an usurping (take possession unlawfully) clan, that of the Mughals.

They held Gandhi, the only Indian politician opposed to partition until the very end , solely responsible for it.

Vinayak Damodar Veer Savarkar

For 350 years the vocation of the city of Pune, had been extreme Hindu nationalism. It was in the hills beyond Pune that Hinduism’s greatest hero, the warrior Shivaji had been born & had opened his guerrilla campaign against the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. His heirs, the Peshwas a tight clique of Chitpavan-purified by fire- Brahmins had resisted India’s British rulers until 1817. From Pune’s streets had come a stream of men like Bal Gangadhar Tilak the militant chieftain of Indian nationalism before Gandhi had turned the movement to non-violence.

Savarkar came from this background. He was a consumer of opium for years & a homosexual. He was a fiery brilliant speaker, revered by his followers as the Churchill of Maharashtra. In Pune & Bombay, he could outdraw more followers than even Nehru. Like Nehru, Jinnah & Gandhi, he had completed his education in London’s Inns of Court. His credo was violent revolution & political assassination.

Arrested in London in 1910 for having commanded from a distance the assassination of a British bureaucrat, he wiggled out of a porthole in Marseilles from a ship taking him back to India for trial. Eventually deported from France, he was given a double life-sentence to the penal colony of the Andaman Islands, only to be released in a post-war amnesty. He had subsequently organised to assassination of the governor of the Punjab, & an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the governor of Bombay. He concealed his connection with the killers so carefully that the police were never able to build a case against him.

Savarkar detested Congress with its pleas for Hindu-Muslim unity & its Gandhian non-violence. His doctrine was Hindutva, the doctrine of Hindu racial supremacy, & his dream was of rebuilding a great Hindu empire from the sources of the Indus to those of the Brahmaputra, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas. He hated the Muslims. There was no place for them in the Hindu society he envisioned.

Nathuram Godse

Godse’s father was a postman earning fifteen rupees a month. But that humble civil servant brought up his sons in the strictest Hindu orthodox tradition. Godse failed English on his matriculation & did not get into a university. Out of school, he drifted from one job to another. A group of American missionaries taught him the tailor’s trade.

His real passion was politics. In 1937, Godse had abandoned Gandhi’s movement to follow another political master, a man who was, as he was a Chitpavan Brahmin, Veer Savarkar.

Despite Gandhi, despite the dictates of logic & reason, despite, above all, the fatal disease locked in his lungs, Jinnah had divided India. His Pakistan included short, dark Bengalis, representatives of a province Jinnah had never visited & whose people he mistrusted.

To satisfy the demands of Jinnah, two of India’s most distinctive entities , the Punjab & Bengal would have to be carved up. The result would make Pakistan a geographic aberration, a nation of two heads separated by 970 miles of Himalayan peaks & Indian territory. Twenty days, more time than was required to sail from Karachi to Marseilles, would be needed to make the sea trip around the sub-continent from one half of Pakistan to another.

If the geographical distance dividing the two halves of Pakistan would be great, however, the psychological distance between the two peoples inhabiting them would be staggering. Apart from a common faith in Allah the One, the Merciful, Punjabis & Bengalis shared nothing. They were as different as Finns & Greeks. The Bengalis were short, dark & agile, racially a part of the masses of Asia. The Punjabis, in whose veins flowed the blood of 30 centuries of conquerors, were scions of the steppes of Central Asia & their features bore the traces of Turkestan, Russia, Persia, the deserts of Arabia. Neither history, nor language nor culture offered a bridge by which these two peoples might communicate. Their marriage in the common state of Pakistan would be a union created against all the dictates of logic.

The Punjab had 15 million Hindus, 16 million Muslims & 5 million Sikhs. Although divided by religion, they spoke a common language, clung to common traditions & an equal pride in their distinctive Punjabi personality.

The division of Bengal at the other end of the sub-continent held out the possibilities of another tragedy. Harbouring more people than Great Britain & Ireland combined, Bengal contained 35 million Muslims & 30 million Hindus. But whether Hindus or Muslims, Bengalis sprang from the same racial stock, spoke the same language, shared the same culture, celebrated their own Bengali New year on 15 April. Its poets like Tagore were regarded with pride by all Bengalis.

In 1905, Lord Curzon, one of the most able Viceroys of India tried to take advantage of that religious split to divide Bengal in to two administratively more manageable halves. His efforts ended in failure six years later when a bloody revolt proved the Bengalis more prone to nationalist sentiments than religious passions.

No aspect of partition, however was more illogical than the fact that, even if Jinnah’s Pakistan was fully realised, it would still deliver barely half of India’s Muslims from the alleged inequities of Hindu majority rule which justified the state in the first place. Indeed, even after the amputation, India would still harbour almost 50 million Muslims, a figure that would make her the third largest Muslim nation in the world, after Indonesia & the new state drawn from her own womb.

Never before had anything even remotely like it been attempted. Nowhere were there any guide lines, any precedents, any revealing insights from the past to order what was going to be the biggest, the most complex divorce action in history, the break up of a family of 400 million human beings along with the assets & household property they’d acquired in centuries of living together on the same piece of earth.

At the outset, Congress claimed the most precious asset of all, the name ‘India’. Rejecting a proposal to name their new dominion ‘Hindustan’, Congress insisted that, since Pakistan was seceding the name India & India’s identity in groups like the UN remain theirs.


Inscrutable – mysterious, cannot be understood by investigation

Decree – judgement

Providence -God’s intervention

Scab- protective crust formed over a wound

Tryst – appointment

Redeem- fulfil

Pledge- commitment

Disparage- lower the value of

Antagonism – active opposition

Exacerbate – make harsh

Amalgam- a combination

Imperial – supreme authority

Debase -lower in quality

Paradox – self-contradictory

Beset -surround with difficulties

Aborigine – tribal

Debauch- excessive indulgence in sex

Pantheon – a temple dedicated to all the Gods

Frieze- sculpture, paintings

Clandestine – secret

Venerate – regard with deep respect

Inadvertently – by mistake

Defecate- toilet

Fornicate- sexual intercourse

Grandiose- planned on a large scale

Galleon – ship

Dour – obstinate, stubborn

Provincial – small

Hamlet – district

Sepoy – Indian soldier in British service

Audacious – bold

Metamorphose – change

Relinquish – give up

Mutiny – open revolt

Stubble – small beard

Ravage – damage

Conniving – cunning

Messiah- spiritual leader

Malevolent- evil

Repose – safe keeping

Pervading – everywhere

Manifestation- form

Blasphemous – against God

Phalli – erect penises

Spare – simple

Squat – short

In a body – all together

Degrade – lower

Repugnant – hateful

Forebear – ancestors

Heiress – Waris

Legacy – gift

Nietzsche – German philosopher

Harrow – English public school

Vocation – career

Utopian – perfect

Reprimand – pulled up, scolded

Applaud – appreciated

Prodigious – very large

Rigours – problems

Edifice – building

Caviar – fish eggs

Oysters – shell fish

Mooted – raise for discussion

Claret – wine

Revere – respect

Credo – belief

Amnesty – a general pardon

Aberration – mistake

Marseilles – a port in France

Scion – descendent