By Amit Roy
OUR days in lockdown are being eased by the chance to watch plays online free of charge.
Last week this included Drawing the Line, Howard Brenton’s play on the Partition of India, which I first saw in 2013 at Hampstead Theatre.
In 1947, a British judge, Mr Justice Cyril Radcliffe, was sent to India, a country he had never visited before, and given five weeks to draw a line in the Punjab and in Bengal, bringing into being West Pakistan and East Pakistan. He knew nothing about cartography either.
Just as today’s planners think that 20,000 coronavirus deaths would be a “good outcome”, the viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, was optimistic that Partition could be achieved with about 100,000 deaths. In the event, one million people died.
Ratcliffe was so “ashamed” of the consequences of how he had drawn the line, that he refused a knighthood and his fee for doing the job. He also burnt all his Partition papers.
Watching the play again at the weekend brought to mind what Brenton had told me in 2013. He had found it “shocking” that school children in Britain were not taught the story of Partition – thereby drawing a line under, as it were, the British Raj in India.
“It is a crucial time in British history: the beginning of our decolonisation,” he had pointed out. “It is not a pretty story, but it has created the country we have now in many ways, and we should be more aware of it.”