The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
Happy Monday! I am honored Veera Hiranandani dropped by to celebrate The Night Diary and to finish my sentences. I look forward to sharing her beautiful novel with readers of all ages. I love everything about it.
In 1947, India gained independence from the British empire and on the same day (at midnight between August 14 and August 15) was split into two countries, India and Pakistan. At a time that was supposed to be triumphant, this partitioning of India, known simply as Partition, became the cause of one of the largest human migrations in modern history. 14 million people were displaced and 1-2 million people died. I’ve always been aware of this history because my father and his family had to leave their home in Mirpur Khas, Pakistan and travel over the new Indian border during Partition.
I hope The Night Diary truly reaches everyone it needs to reach. I wrote it both for readers in the South Asian community who have connections to Partition, but also to share and illuminate this huge piece global of history with anyone who isn’t familiar with it. I hope readers can see a specific human experience underneath the labels we may place on those experiences, like what it means to be a refugee or from a different country or a different religion. Last, but least, I hope that Nisha’s quiet, brave persistence and questioning are inspiring to all who don’t think they have a voice.
Stories are full experiences in themselves, especially the ones we connect to the most. I had a writing teacher who said that in drawing from our own experiences, we should also use our reading experiences. They are also part of what shapes us. I always remembered that and have looked at stories a bit differently since.
I wrote the words in purple, and Veera wrote the words in black. Thank you, Veera!
Nisha’s diary is a place where she can be free. Nisha’s very shy and has trouble talking to people outside of her family, so her diary is a space where she can fully express herself. Also, as Nisha writes letters to her mother in her diary, she creates the mother she needs but never knew, because her mother died when she was born.
The conflict came about mainly because of concerns about equality between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. One proposed solution was the creation of Pakistan where Muslims could have more power in the government there. Hindus were the majority in India and would have more power once India was independent, but many people were not supportive of the Partition. The British, however, rushed the process and chaos ensued. Tensions between religious groups grew and an unimaginable cycle of violence started. This is why I wanted Nisha to have a Muslim mother and a Hindu father. I wanted to directly question why people had to be separated and where she belonged if she identified with both religious groups. Nisha also wonders what would happen if her mother was alive.
Dadi, Papa, Amil, and Kazi are the main characters, other than Nisha in The Night Diary. Dadi (the Hindi and Sindhi word for one’s paternal grandmother) is comforting, but at times, annoying to Nisha. Papa is Nisha’s father. He is a doctor, and often very busy with his work. He can be distant, but protective and Nisha wishes he would be more nurturing. Amil is her twin brother, and as she says, “the other half” of her. He is outgoing, impulsive, funny, and loving. He is her voice when she can’t speak for herself, but she helps calm him, and helps him think more deeply about things. Kazi is the family’s cook. He and Nisha have a close relationship and she gets some of the nurturing she’s looking for from him. He also teaches her how to cook and she finds another way to express herself. Kazi is also Muslim and they are separated through this conflict.
School libraries are so many wonderful things, but what they’ve always meant to me above all is a place where students get free access to books. Whether a child has many books at home or not, there is something so empowering about finding a book you like and just being able to take it home with you. You don’t have to ask anyone to buy it for you and it’s your responsibility to care for it. This says to a child--we trust you. School libraries also provide a place to make exciting discoveries and connections. They provide community. They provide a safe and quiet space to read and think. I’ve always loved the quiet expected in libraries. I remember relief in this expectation as a quiet kid.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I like writing about food so much. I’m a little obsessed with good food and it always finds its way into my writing for different reasons. The biggest reason is that food has helped me connect with my own mixed background. My father is from India and is Hindu and my mother was born in Brooklyn, NY and is Jewish. I always say that samosas and matzo ball soup are my favorite comfort foods. Now I’m hungry. Time for lunch!
Borrow The Night Diary from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.