Wheeler eventually finds a register that works, both for the material and as a good literary approximation of what must be her spoken voice. The forced lyricism of the early chapters (“green as far as the eye can see: field after field of wheat”) gives way to something more elegant. One Pakistan academic she meets informs her that her “line of enquiry... is a feminist one. It is odd to us, for whom the patriarchal line is more important.” She takes his remark to mean “Why such a fuss over your mother?” Well, she replies, her mother, married to a much-lauded broadcaster, spent much of her life in the shadows. Do they not agree “that she has a story worth telling?” The question comes at a point in the story when it’s more than clear that the answer is yes.
Nevertheless, it makes for a very readable tome in the ever-growing diaspora canon. If it feels diffuse at times, it is made up for with anecdotes, interviews, and in the profusion of historical details. As Wheeler notes in the introduction, the book is “about memory and identity, about what we have, what we lose and what we rebuild.” More than 70 years since the republic’s tryst with destiny, it can only be a good thing that these matters are increasingly discussed.
‘Ketchupgate’ was forever seen within the family as Dip finally seeking a voice independent of her marriage to a large personality to whom she always took second place. This melancholic book, although a little contrived at times, seeks to do the same for her daughter. ‘I was indeed on a journey,’ as Wheeler remarks, ‘about what we have, what we lose and what we rebuild.’
The Lost Homestead is a response to this diasporic predicament. Wheeler too had picked up a vague chronology, but didn’t know the story of her own family. Her mother, Dip — a member of the dwindling generation of Indians who lived through partition — was always reticent about the past. But Wheeler sought to document it before it was too late. Now, by narrating partition with a focus on her mother’s family, the Singhs, she has made the abstractions of history suddenly more real: they are given names, faces and feelings.