“Amritsar to Lahore: A Journey Across the India-Pakistan Border


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Stephen Alter
232 pages, $24.95 Paper

A sensitive and thoughtful look at the lasting effects of the 1947 partition of India on everyday people, Amritsar to Lahore describes a journey across the contentious border between India and Pakistan in 1997, the 50th anniversary of the partition. Setting out from and then returning to New Delhi, Stephen Alter, novelist and writer-in-residence at MIT, crossed the border into Pakistan, retraced the legendary route of the Frontier Mail toward the Khyber Pass, and made his return by bus along the Grand Trunk Road, stopping in major cities along the way.

During this journey and another in 1998, Alter interviewed people from all classes and castes: Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, men and women. In candid conversation, the older generation who lived through the events of 1947 shared their memories and opinions of that pivotal moment of partition, while youths who have inherited the fragments of that past reflected upon the meaning of national identity. Alter documents in evocative detail his meetings with varied individuals. He recalls the Muslim taxi driver who notes the confident air of Pakistani men walking the streets dressed in traditional flowing shirts; the brigadier who saved the brass insignia of the British crown from Lord Mountbattens Rolls Royce; gold merchants, customs officers, fellow travelers, musicians and many others.

Alongside these interviews, chance conversations and oral histories, Alter provides informed commentary to raise questions about national and individual identity, the territorial imperatives of history and the insidious mythology of borders. Offering both the perspective of hindsight and a troubling vision of the future, Amritsar to Lahore presents a compelling argument against the impenetrability of boundaries and the tragic legacy of lands divided.

University of Pennsylvania Press

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Originally published on November 30, 2000