Review of Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s ‘Hyderabad: Book 2 of The Partition Trilogy’: tea, Osmania biscuits and Partition

The human suffering that was catalysed by the Partition has been sketched in fictionalised detail by authors such as Rajinder Singh Bedi, Saadat Hasan Manto, Khushwant Singh and Bhisham Sahni. Authors continue to add to Partition literature. But there is a growing hunger among a new generation to understand what happened in the crucial years where religion set neighbour against neighbour.

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The promised second part of Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s trilogy gives us a thinly disguised slice of Hyderabad on the eve of Partition. Rather, the run-up to the merger of Hyderabad with India nearly 13 months after August 15, 1947; Hyderabad forces surrendered to the Indian Army on September 18, 1948.

Like the first part,  Lahore, the second part,  Hyderabad, too, has a love story as nut graf, while the real backroom drama, politicking and courtly intrigue play out on the side. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is Vallabh, Mahatma Gandhi is Bapu, Jawaharlal Nehru is Jawahar, Mountbatten is Dickie; in Hyderabad, there is the Nizam, his daughter-in-law Niloufer, and Communist leaders scheming and plotting rebellion. Someshwar recreates the elite world of Princess Niloufer and her companion Uzma in Hyderabad. Uzma comes to the conclusion that the defining features of the royal court are poison, opium and coterie; but the harem trumped everything.

All too real

Someshwar shows a British memsahib’s eye for detail as she takes the reader through the streets of Hyderabad and deploys a vocabulary from that time. And the fiction becomes all too real as the author uses information that is in the public domain about Falaknuma Palace, the Nazri Bagh, the double-storied building for the concubines, Irani cafes, Osmania biscuits, and the rocks of the Deccan: ‘Tearing at clothes, shedding some, Daniyal worrying about the rough rock surface, Jaabili drawing him down, they made frenzied love under a canopy of stars and the gaze of monkeys’.

The author is in her element when she describes events inside a drawing room or the political intrigue as she flits between Delhi and Hyderabad. It is in the Nizam’s household that she lets her imagination fly and brings alive the characters who surrounded Mir Osman Ali Khan as he played a diplomatic game to outsmart the British and Indians to stay independent.

Kasim Razvi, the leader of Razakars, or the band of volunteers, created terror in the countryside in the dying days of Nizam Osman Ali Khan’s rule over one of the largest princely states. The narrative is juxtaposed with the terror of bloodletting, which was very much in the air: ‘Hyderabad is on the cusp of something big… I feel like we’re sitting on a volcano that will erupt anytime’.

The canvas is large, the events beyond comprehension, the characters larger than life. But missing in this are the small details of their lives. This Someshwar tries to fill in but ends up creating a jumpy narrative like an Instagram reel shot without a tripod.

Hyderabad: Book II: The Partition Trilogy, by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, HarperCollins, ₹499

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