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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Book Review of “The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan”

Title: The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan
Author: T.C.A. Raghavan
Publication Place: Noida, India
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Date of Publication: 2018-07-02
Edition: First Edition
Pages: 360
ISBN: 9789353022914

T. C. A. Raghavan’s “The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan” is a detailed analysis of the bitter-sweet history of relations between two South Asian neighbours: India and Pakistan. Raghavan, by profession, is a diplomat who once served as the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, and thus, his analysis in this regard informs his entire approach to the book. In this case, Raghavan has an extensive background and practical experience in Pakistan, which enables Raghavan to inform his readers and provide a more measured hypervisibility to the subject.

The book delves into the historical background of the relationship between India and Pakistan beginning with the traumatic partition of 1947. Raghavan explains the events that characterised earlier contacts between the two countries, such as territorial disputes of the Kashmir region, water distribution issues, and defining religious affiliation. In depicting historical realities and incorporating his own experiences, as well as the quotes of key leaders of the two States, he paints the complex picture of these problems noted at both the border and on an international level. The complex rivalry between India and Pakistan has been the subject of numerous books over the years, but few are as nuanced and intricate as T.C.A. Raghavan’s The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan, which was released in 2018.
However, the book is not all about the politicians and their arguments. Raghavan investigates the interlinkages between people from India and Pakistan as friends or families, history and culture. Thus, combining these threads, Raghavan paints a picture with a broad and detailed insight into the relations between India and Pakistan. He did not attempt to tell a favourable story about India or an unfavourable story about Pakistan. However, he states that there are mistakes on both sides and the stories from history and internal politics are one of several factors that keep the temperature rising high. Concisely, the author’s fair presentation of facts offers readers more than just a meagre piece of information about the conflict and helps them understand the complexities of the situation.

In a nutshell, the first chapter of the book can be seen to provide the necessary backdrop for Raghavan to embark on. Alone he asserts the dynamics and complexities of this relationship to the readers. He turns back to the past, reflects on their situation and issues that still exist and studies the linkages that remain with them. The approach that the authors take ensures that readers are equipped with a clear and balanced picture of this rather intricate and often misunderstood subject.
Chapter 2 is devoted to the disputable topic of Kashmir. It goes beyond the “who owns it” question, diving into the deep historical roots and emotional attachment each country feels, Chapter 3 explores another flashpoint: providing water from shared rivers. We all know water is essential, but here Raghavan explains why it is a matter of development and security for both nations.

But here’s the surprising twist: it is not all conflict. Chapter 4 examines the engrossing cultural and social links found in these “People Next Door.” Picture two families who are related and engaged in a fight, yet they still reach out. It was heartbreaking to read when Raghavan spoke about families that were affected by partition and continue to visit each other across the border. Such relationships illustrate the fact that historical connections should not be overshadowed by political conflict.
Don’t we all love a good game? Chapter 5 examines cricket, the love for which is motivating the people of the subcontinent. Cricket prevails as an instrument that unites diverse societies since almost everyone in the subcontinent loves the game. Likewise, Chapter 6 examines cultural references that are entrenched in Bollywood films and literature. Chapter 7 addresses this issue of economic cooperation between these neighbours which has a bright future but is burdened by the lack of trust and political rivalry.
The last chapter in the book – Chapter 8 – seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel. The author offers a more refined perspective of this intricate relationship. It is not a rosy picture but there is a positive chance to see a peaceful world and maybe India and Pakistan could come out of the racial rivalry and can live together. The key lies in acknowledging the difficulties and at the same time, seeking possibilities of a better tomorrow.

An excellent feature of the book is that the author is able to present the information impartially. Raghavan does not depict India as a helpless nation and Pakistan as the evil oppressing the harmless India. He admits mistakes committed by both governments and focuses on the effects of historical prejudices and internal political agendas on the escalation of the conflict. Such an approach can help the readers better grasp the dynamics at work in the conflict.
Moreover, Raghavan wrote personal experiences and anecdotes very effectively. In sharing his own personal and professional stories from his years as a diplomat stationed in Pakistan, he writes about the hospitality that always existed beyond the veil of hostility. Such human interest incidents also assist in effectively fighting off the prevailing stereotypical notion of hatred and send out positive messages on the prospects of forgiveness.

Nevertheless, “The People Next Door” has a handful of shortcomings. Even though Raghavan does a commendable job of analysis, the book is lacking in providing a solution-oriented outlook to the future. Those readers who came with the expectation of finding a way to enhance political relations may be disappointed.
Another crucial aspect that should be highlighted is the fact that Raghavan is an author who has the background of a former Indian diplomat. Perhaps, it could have been helpful to incorporate more Pakistani opinions and perspectives to provide a more credible and objective portrayal of the events.
While Raghavan focuses his exploration on the political and historical specifics, there are other aspects of the relationship between India and Pakistan that can be further discussed. The book focuses heavily on critical issues such as the dispute over the territory of Kashmir and the issue of water rights. Examining the less-reported events, including environmental factors or trade relations, might contribute to a more accurate understanding. Furthermore, the book could have also explored the involvement of diaspora communities in India, Pakistan and other regions. These communities facilitate the interaction between the two countries and may hold keys to future cultural and/or political compromises.

Nevertheless, “The People Next Door” is a good read and should be considered a useful contribution to the large body of literature about India and Pakistan. The writing style is straightforward and lively, thus allowing the general reader not acquainted with the region to understand the author’s idea. His understanding and analysis of the issue and his ability to see both sides of the story provide a vital starting point for anyone interested in exploring the nature of this ongoing companionship.
The book is also a valuable resource for policymakers, diplomats, and anyone who wants to move beyond simplistic narratives and gain a deeper understanding of this crucial relationship. Raghavan’s diplomatic perspective and the seeming enthusiasm in telling the story make it balanced and informative. Thus, the book, though not presenting any clear-cut solutions, opens a much-needed window to the historical realities and future possibilities of those ‘People Next Door.’ Therefore, this book is recommended for anyone interested in South Asian history, international relations, and the dynamics of India-Pakistan relations.

Reviewed by:

Khushboo Zaveri
RLA Research Intern

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