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Hiraeth

Art: Writing | Book

Hiraeth

Partition stories from 1947

Dr. Shivani Salil

Dr. Shivani Salil

Author

What would you do if you were told you had minutes to leave your home? What would you take, what would you be thinking?

This thought dominated the minds of millions who moved across the newly created borders in 1947. The place they called home was not a geographical zone but an emotion. Most just locked their doors and left as if they were going on a vacation. They ended up as refugees in a foreign land with a yearning for a home they could never return to. That yearning is what Hiraeth stands for.

Author Interview by room9 watchers

Dr. Shivani Salil, MD, is a writer’s soul in a doctor’s body. She is the author of ‘Hiraeth – Partition stories from 1947’, her successful venture with room9 publications. Currently residing in Hong Kong along with her husband and daughter, she finds herself longing for the Aamchi Mumbai vibes. A full-time doctor-turned-blogger-turned writer, her association with Room8 at ArtoonsInn has been a memorable one. She is the Eyes club member at Room8 giving her insightful reviews to help her fellow writers grow. Her odyssey as a writer and seeker of literature has expounded well-wrought yet unknown tales from the partition of 1947, leaving our hearts beguiled and torn apart with pain, yet sewn together in a common spirit of humanity. Here’s our interview with Dr. Shivani Salil.

Watcher Khyati: So, Hiraeth is a reality now. Although reading the book will offer the reader an explanation about the title, I’m sure they are still curious. Can you brief your audience on what prompted you to give your book such a unique name?

Shivani: ‘Hiraeth is a reality now’… every time I read this, I want to pinch myself, hoping it ain’t a dream. ‘Hiraeth’ is a Welsh word and it stands for longing or homesickness for a place which maybe never was or to one which you cannot return to. When I came across this word, the book was nowhere in sight. The word stuck with me because that’s the emotion I have for my lost roots. As I have also mentioned in the book, it evokes in me a similar emotion for the bygone land of my ancestors.

Khyati: That is such a poignant feeling. We hope the readers are able to connect with that ‘yearning’ too. Speaking of, what actually prompted you to compile these stories of partition? Have you been (in)directly influenced by the partition?

Shivani: People who know me say I am obsessed with partition. Maybe they are right. In my defense, I’d say that my grandparents, both paternal and maternal, were uprooted because of partition. Almost overnight they had to pack whatever they could carry and flee from their home to a land that wasn’t theirs. They rebuilt their lives from scratch and slogged to give my parents and their siblings, a chance for a better life. They didn’t talk about it much and I lost them when I was quite young, but I’ve always felt I owed it to them and to the millions of others who moved across from both sides of the newly created borders.

Khyati: That sure strikes a chord, Shivani. You being directly connected with the horrors that once tore the sub-continent apart, really makes this book exceptional. Tell me, are the stories in your collection true events?

Shivani: Yes, they are. In fact, some of them are from my own family- immediate and extended. But I’d add that I have given them quite a fictional twist, the liberty I wanted to take.

Khyati: Indeed.. Having read the book myself, I sure can vouch for the pathos that it evokes. It’s quite hard to distinguish fact from fiction.  Anyway, were you planning to compile these and publish them in a book when you wrote the stories?

Shivani: These stories began as a blog series. I was overwhelmed by the readers’ response. That stoked my innate desire to try compiling them in a book. That this dream of mine would be realised, wasn’t something I’d visualised in my wildest imagination.

Khyati: Dreams do come true with the right dose of determination. Let’s side-step a little from Hiraeth. We are curious about the author too. Tell us a little about yourself?

Shivani: I am a doctor professionally and had been working in a teaching hospital until last year. That’s when my husband’s job brought us to Hong Kong. I had started writing two years ago and this sabbatical gave me an unforeseen opportunity to concentrate more on it.

Khyati: That is amazing! Now that your debut book is out, what’s your next move? Are you planning to take up writing as a career?

Shivani: Frankly, I still have to allow this thought to sink in to be able to think clearly about my next move. I will never stop writing and that’s a promise I have made to myself. Meanwhile, I had also applied for a full-time course in creative writing from Hong Kong University. I am extremely pleased to share with you that I have been selected. So, September will see me going back to college.

Khyati: We wish you all the best with furthering your education, Shivani. So many women out there are tied down with work, homemaking and are stuck to a routine. What’s your advice for career-oriented women who are extraordinary writers but have to leave the passion in the backseat due to work commitments?

Shivani: Passion and hobby are two separate things. Passion is a much stronger force and I firmly believe if one has a passion for anything, one finds time for it. I started writing while I was working full time. I used to write while traveling to work to and fro. What I am trying to say is, make time for what makes you happy and more so if you are good at it.

Khyati: That sure is a motivating thought. Back to the book now. What type of audience is Hiraeth ideal for?

Shivani: When I wrote this book, I was told that the people from Punjab, Bengal, and Sindhis would be the ones who’d read it. I would like to believe that hasn’t been the case, considering the feedback I have received from all corners of the country.

The aim with which I wrote this was so that my daughter, nieces, and nephews know where they are coming from. Though some stories are not appropriate for children, I think anyone from 16-18 and above should find it relatable at some or the other level.

    Khyati: That sure is a wide audience! Writing a book for young adults as well as adults, written in a way that evokes different emotions in different age groups is an exceptional feat. However, we know that a book cannot be born overnight. We’re sure you had rocks who stood by your side throughout the process. Looking back, do you have anyone without who this dream wouldn’t have become a reality?

    Shivani: Naming any one person is tough. My entire family has rallied behind me. My husband and daughter a little more than others because they had to live with me and my quirks. There was no escape for them.

    And then would be my friends from the writing world and my publishers who reposed their faith in me.

    Khyati: Indeed. Having known you throughout this journey has been a boon to the entire family at ArtoonsInn. To wind up today’s Innterview, do share your thoughts on ArtoonsInn room9 publications.

    Shivani: If it wasn’t for Room9 Publications, my book would’ve been a distant dream. Their confidence in a first-time writer spurred me on. Besides that, their professionalism, their perfectionist streak and the no-compromise attitude for quality have made my Hiraeth look the way it does today. I can never thank room9 enough for that.

    Hiraeth has been a spellbinding and enchanting read for all age groups. The kaleidoscope of emotions and the revered little casket of our little histories – Hiraeth tells us at what expense we came to know the freedom we enjoy today and hence, is sure to appeal to each one of us. 

    Got your copy of the book? If not, grab it soon and let us know what you felt about reading these partition stories brought together into a single frame by the writer.

    Room9 started its publishing journey with Dr. Shivani Salil’s Hiraeth. Since then it has been a dream run with a strong fan-base of readers and rave reviews by the critics alike. With a start as spectacular as this, we can only imagine what the future holds for room9 and its associated artists.

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