The existing histories of the Partition of British India have very little chance of capturing the moods and mindsets, the helplessness and frustration of those who steered the course. The histories written thus far have either focussed on political narratives or on ideological analysis. More recently, the spotlight has turned towards the madness and pathology of hatred and mass murders. The Last Durbar tells it as it waswithout the epic quality of conventional writing filled with the rhetoric of freedom and greatness, and without the legalese and constitution-making vocabulary of the Transfer of Power. The personal and political meet and separate at the last durbar, with Louis Mountbatten on the throne, and the modern, constitutional durbaris hail the advent of freedom and bid farewell to each other. The play is based on the private papers of Mountbatten, including verbatim records, testimonies, and discussions of the leading political figures. It is a nuanced and multi-layered account of the months and days that eventually led to the formation of the independent nations of India and Pakistan. Drama is the only genre of written history that allows us to fully portray the complexity of such a process and frame the atmosphere of the concentrated moment. The history of Partition has never before been told in this way.
Shashi Joshi has a Ph.D. in history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She began her academic career as a senior lecturer in history at Miranda House, University of Delhi; was senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi; and from 198397, was co-director of an Indian Council of Social Science Research project. She is currently senior fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, India. The author has several publications to her credit including Struggle for Hegemony in India: The Colonial State, Left and the National Movement, Volume I and Struggle for Hegemony in India: Culture, Community and Power, Volume III.