Imagine your locality, the place where you live. It starts changing slowly. And then gradually, little by little everything changes. The people you meet on a daily basis, you don’t see them anymore. The houses, shattered, burned and barren. You neighbours, packing their belongings and moving away to more secure places. Deals being struck every day by people to sell their land and house. Imagine moving away to some new alien place and leaving everything behind..
A Life Long Ago by Sunanda Sikdar is a story about Dayamoyee, who lives in Dighpait with her foster Moster, whom she calls Ma. Her original parents are both parents in Hindustan. And now they are waiting for Dayamoyee to come to Hindustan and live with them because Dighpait will be part of a new country now, East Pakistan. India has been partitioned now and Dayamoyee can see many strange faces setting up homes in her village. Dayamoyee and Ma, both wait patiently to sell their home animals and land to someone who deserves them and can take care of them like their own.
Dayamoyee never wanted to leave her village, but then she knows that her family is in Hindustan, waiting for her to come back safely. She makes a promise never to share with anyone about her experience, what she went through and what all she saw when she was getting ready to leave Dighpait with her Ma. And she keeps her promise, until a letter arrives, informing her that Majam, her beloved friend is dead. And then a floodgate of memories open up and she drowns into it.. The flooding water of memories takes her back to Dighpait, her childhood, her friends..The untouchable customs that she needs to keep in mind all the time.. Muslims and Hindus can exchange grains, milk or fish but cannot eat or cook with each other. For others, her life started from the year 1961 when she came to her family in Hindustan, but for her from 1951-1960, these were the years when she was actually living amongst her people..
The book gives a vivid description about life after partition, through a 10-year-old child’s life. The book raises some important questions like class, caste and community and religion which still troubles the life of people living in Urban areas also. Dayamoyee’s character is of a little girl who is bewildered most of time because of simple facts; That people who were so dear to her once, how so suddenly they become ”others”. That how borders and line can destroy simple villagers and families. How these lines can influence working off a country so much.
The language of the book might trouble some of the readers. Also, the character flow is not straight and a little mixed up. A person might have to turn back a page or two to remember wich character has now entered the storyline. But overall the book makes up for a good read. You will be able to understand human side of partition, how uprooting a whole family kills someone, where it doesn’t matter which caste you belong to, your heart will still grieve for that Muslim or a Hindu neighbor you leave behind.