The real-life history behind A Suitable Boy – newly independent India prepares for first election

Everything you need to know about the real story behind Vikram Seth's post-partition novel.

A Suitable Boy

BBC One’s A Suitable Boy, based on Vikram Seth’s bestseller of the same name, follows a young woman coming of age in 1950s North India.

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The story of Lata Mehra (played by Tanya Maniktala) as she finds love and gains new independence is set against the backdrop of post-partition India, as the country prepares for its first independent election after India gained its independence on 15th August, 1947.

But what was the real-life story behind the book and the television adaptation? What was the Indian Partition, and how does it influence the events of Seth’s book?

What was the Indian Partition?

Indian Partition
At the conference in New Delhi where Lord Mountbatten disclosed Britain’s partition plan for India. (Getty Images)
Getty Images

Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy is set in the newly-independent, post-partition India. But what was the Partition of India?

The Partition of Indian occurred in 1947, when the British left India after ruling for three hundreds years, and the subcontinent was separated into two independent nation states: India and Pakistan.

India was Hindu-majority, while Pakistan was Muslim-majority, resulting in mass migration as people attempted to cross the border in both directions.

The partition also resulted in violence and a mutual genocide, with Hindus and Sikhs turning on Muslims, and vice versa.

First look image of Lata (Tanya Maniktala) and Mrs Rupa Mehra (Mahira Kakkar) in BBC One’s A Suitable Boy
Lata (Tanya Maniktala) and Mrs Rupa Mehra (Mahira Kakkar) in BBC One’s A Suitable Boy

In an interview with RadioTimes.com and other press, Indian actress Tanya Maniktala (who plays Lata in the TV adaptation), described the harrowing journey her own family faced during the partition.

She explained that her Hindu great-uncle had been held up crossing the border, where he was asked to prove that he was Muslim and circumcised.

“I am from a Hindu family, and my grandfather’s older brother – while they were crossing the partition – one of the Muslims caught them and they wanted to check if they were Muslim or not, and that means they have to like, they were willing to – and my grandfather obviously refused to show them proof of whether they were Muslim,” she said,  “and according to what my grandfather tells me, they had knives out, they had all these sticks… and another Muslim guy intervened and told them, ‘Oh they’re from my family’ – and that’s how they got them through the partition.”

She continued, “It’s scary to imagine what it would have been like, but yeah, that’s the truth,” before later asserting: “Humanity was lost at that time, it was not about religion. It was humanity that lost all faith.”

Does A Suitable Boy address the partition? 

A Suitable Boy
Lata and her love interest Kabir Durrani, who is revealed to be Muslim (BBC One’s A Suitable Boy)
BBC Pictures

A Suitable Boy is set in 1951 after the partition, as the newly-independent India prepares for the first general election.

The religious tensions and divide that were exacerbated by the partition are highlighted in the book, especially during Lata’s romance with Kabir Durrani.

Lata, the book’s protagonist, falls for a fellow university student, but is heartbroken when she learns his surname and realises that he is Muslim, knowing that her Hindu family would never agree to her marrying a Muslim.

The forbidden romance is discovered by her mother, leading to Lata’s move to Calcutta to live with her married brother.

A Suitable Boy begins BBC One on Sunday, 26th July at 9pm for UK and Irish viewers, and will be available on Netflix internationally. 
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