Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary is a heartfelt and also heartrending story of the Partition. The story is told from the point of view of twelve-year old Nisha, who feels she leads a comfortable enough life. Her life begins to crumble, though, when India declares its independence from Great Britain, and Muslim and Hindu politicians decide to divide the country. Nisha and her publicly recognized Hindu family must now flee their home. They live in what is to be Pakistan, and like so many families fleeing over the border of India and Pakistan, they must go to be with those of similar religion. Nisha’s story is told through letter she writes to her deceased mother in the form of a diary. While some letters seem only to chronicle the events of the day, most of them reveal an inquisitive yet fearful young girl.
A large part of The Night Diary focuses on Nisha’s dual identity as both Muslim and Hindu, an identity that hampers her ability to changing world around her. At times, she wonders if she might be accepted in both India and Pakistan. At other times, she wonders what might happen to her if anyone outside of her family were to know the truth. Though the conflict between Muslims and Hindus does not permeate Nisha’s familial life, it remains an ever present worry throughout the story, often manifesting in frightening and heartbreaking ways. Hiranandani wastes little time showing her opinion of this conflict. Kazi, the family cook and one of the most beloved people in Nisha’s life, is Muslim and commands a good deal of Nisha’s attention in her diary. Life cannot be divided along religious lines; there are dear people to be found on both sides.
The Night Diary also explores Nisha’s relationship with her twin brother Amil. Amil, though Nisha’s twin, is in many ways her opposite. At times, he offers an alternative viewpoint to Nisha’s much more trusting view of the world. At other times, he seems just as trusting and forgiving as she is. Hiranandani explores the relationship between the siblings, so different and yet so alike, with gentle and genuine detail; anyone with a beloved sibling will recognize in Nisha and Amil the love and companionship found in such people. True to life, though, Hiranandani does not exempt Nisha and Amil from the pitfalls and struggles of sibling-hood. Nisha worries over Amil’s awkwardness and writers to her mother about how she resents his inability to follow the rules. At times, she wonders if it is Amil who attracts the hostility her family faces from other people. Even here, though, Hiranandani is careful not to be unkind to Amil; he has his place and purpose just like everyone else in the book.
While it deals with the heavy topic of the Partition, The Night Diary is kind enough and light enough in its level of brutality and view of the world that it remains a good book for children. Ultimately, though her family faces considerable hardship, Nisha’s view of the world still remains forgiving and hopeful. Her story is not one for readers expecting a jaded and cold outlook on the disappointments and difficulties in life. Through shining light on childhood resilience and hope, The Night Diary tells the story of the Partition and the division and heartbreak it caused but offers hope and new beginnings for those willing to still have faith in the world.