Nisha and Amil are packing their bags. It’s no longer safe to live in Mirpur Khas as the riots are approaching. They are no longer in India; it is Pakistan now. Slowly, the 12-year-olds come to terms with the gory details of the Partition. Their story, in which Nisha writes letters to her mother, who died at childbirth, makes up The Night Diary by New York-based author Veera Hiranandani. The author grew up with tales of her family, which hails from Mirpur Khas in Sindh. Curiousity made her read more and she wondered why it was never taught at her school in the US. As a writer, she decided to shape a story for young adults. “I didn’t want the history to be lost. Perhaps, families could read it together and get an opening for discussion,” she says. An interest in epistolary stories led her to write it as a diary. “I knew that Nisha was extremely shy, and felt excited by the idea of the reader getting to know a very intimate side of her through the diary that no one else in her life would see. At times, I decided to create more expansive scenes than a 12-year old might write in a real diary, but I hoped that readers would want to take a leap for the sake of the story,” she says. In the story, brother and sister have an mixed-faith identity, as their mother was Muslim.
Hiranandani’s previous novel, The Whole Story of Half a Girl, had another teen protagonist, Sonia Nadhamuni, who was half-Indian and half Jewish-American. It was also partly autobiographical. “Sometimes, I never felt ‘enough’. I wasn’t Indian enough or American enough or Jewish enough or Hindu enough. I think my identity is part of what made me want to be a writer. It’s always been a way for me to sort out my feelings, starting from the journals I wrote when I was young, to the books I write now,” says Hiranandani. Her first stint in writing was the series Phoebe G Green, a reaction to the US food culture.
She is working on a novel inspired by her parents’ marriage, about a Jewish girl in Connecticut in the ’60s whose older sister elopes with an Indian man studying in the US. “I’m also playing around with a follow-up to The Night Diary,” she says.