In 1947, British India is home to 255 million Hindus, 92 million Muslims who live in the northeast and northwest part of the country and 6 million Sikhs who live in the diverse Punjab region. Lord Mountbatten, Viceroy of India has been charged with overseeing the creation of the new country and the drawing up of the boundary between Pakistan and India.
The time of the partition is one filled with violence and confusion. Over 10 million people in India must relocate; Muslims in India must relocate to Pakistan, while Hindus/Sikhs from the area of India that will become Pakistan must migrate to India. The partitioning and the inevitable disputes over the boundary only serve to highlight the religious divide, resulting in murder, rape and kidnapping by both Muslims and Hindus and over one million people will die as a result.
Into this turmoil, the lives of three young people intersect. Seventeen year old Margaret Darnsley is the daughter of a British cartographer sent to India to help map the new boundary between India and Pakistan. Employed by the Darnsley family is Tariq an eighteen year old Muslim whose family will be leaving for Pakistan and seventeen year old Anupreet, a beautiful Sikh girl who has already experienced one violent attack resulting in the scarring of her face.
Margaret is bored by her closeted existence within the family compound and her mother's all-consuming concern with improving the family's social status. Tariq desperately wants to study in England, so that he may return to Pakistan to lead his country. He sees his employment with the British cartographer as a step towards this goal. Meanwhile, Anupreet's family has managed to obtain employment for their daughter with the Darnsley's with whom they believe she will be safe from further attacks.
This sets up an unusual dynamic in the Darnsley household; Tariq is attracted to Anupreet but it is an attraction that can never be fulfilled because such a relationship is forbidden due to their different religions. Tariq is also attracted to Margaret who is so different from Anupreet - in fact exotic to him with her blonde hair and strange ways. But she is British and so their relationship too would be forbidden. Margaret is attracted to Tariq but keeps her attraction hidden from him and her parents. Instead she begins to form a friendship with Anudeep who likewise hopes to be friends with Margaret but realizes that true friendship involves the complete sharing of ideas and secrets - something both girls cannot do.
Underlying the story of Margaret, Tariq and Anupreet in the Darnsley household is the story of Tariq and his childhood friend, Sameer. Sameer, also a Muslim, has turned to a life of crime, participating in the riots against the Sikhs and Hindus, and also blackmailing them for protection money. He attempts to draw Tariq into this life on several occasions, challenging Tariq to be on the "right side" when the time comes. It is this relationship that ultimately will draw all three teens together, forcing Tariq to choose one of two paths.
Most teens unless they are staunch historical fiction fans might find A Moment Comes somewhat slow paced, but Bradbury manages to hold her reader's interest with the interesting dynamics between the three main characters. This is the novel's strength; its exploration of the relationships between three young people and how they struggle to relate to one another within the conventions of Indian (and British) society at this time.The reader is eager to see how the relationship between Tariq and Margaret develops, and whether Anupreet and Margaret can forge a friendship given their cultural and class differences.
Each teen struggles to live with their families expectations for them. This is clearly shown by Tariq who wants to study in England and who hopes that Mr. Darnsley will help him achieve this dream. However, his family does not support him as they want him to travel with them to Pakistan where he can study at Lahore. For Tariq, the prestige of a British education is paramount since he believes this will make his countrymen listen to him.
Likewise, Margaret Darnsley, is also expected to behave according to British etiquette, although she already has an indiscretion to her credit back in England. Margaret loves the beautiful saris and the salwar kameez that Anupreet helps her purchase at the market across from their compound and she finds the traditional Indian clothing to be comfortable and practical in the hot, humid climate of Jalandhar. But her mother is horrified by her daughter's foray into Indian culture.
"Mrs. Darnsley turns away from the window, starts to answer her husband, but when she catches sight of Margaret, her face pales.
"What on earth are you wearing?" she asks he daughter. She doesn't sound pleased.
Margaret backs away from the window. "I picked it out from the market -- it just arrived, its so much cooler --"
"Go and change at once," her mother orders. "You look ridiculous. ..."
The last half of the novel picks up the pace as Tariq, Margaret and Anupreet's lives are thrown together by the violence in India. The twist in the plot sees the three teens come together to help one another as the day of partition arrives.
Bradbury tells her story in the alternating narratives of Tariq, Margaret and Anupreet. Their voices are authentic and unique and capture the fears and uncertainty that would have been felt during this time. A Moment Comes is an interesting novel about a very fascinating historical event that many young people may not know much about, nor study in school.
For more information check out the BBC History webpage as well as the video The Day India Burned: The Partition below:
A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury
New York: Anetheum Books for Young Readers 2013