Ravi Rai’s book The Tattoo on My Breast is a captivating love story set in the country’s most harrowing age.
At the stroke of the midnight hour on August 15, when the world was sleeping, India woke up to life and independence. However, a price was paid in the form of millions of people, separated from their loved ones in the name of freedom, dying and displaced. And while millions of archives speak of the political side of things, the narrative about lovers being torn apart because of Partition is limited. Among those covering the issue is veteran writer and producer Ravi Rai in his book The Tatoo on My Breast. A love story set in Sukkur, a small town that is now in Pakistan’s Sindh province, the book aims to highlight the pain of the Sindhi community during the Partition era.
“I want the new generation to know about the kind of emotions and love they had for the country and what all they have gone through to attain freedom,” says Rai, who is Sindhi himself and intends to contribute to his community with this book. “They have risen from ashes and it is an inspiring story, so people should know about it,” he adds.
Revisiting the past through an extended Sindhi family living in Sukkur, Rai’s protagonist Sadhana, the grand daughter of a wealthy Sindhi merchant, leads the story with her love interest Rehman, a meek boy next door. While the two are unaware of their emotions for each other in the beginning, the parallel story about the head of the family Dada and his son Govind — both following Gandhian and Hindutva ideologies respectively — helps ground the love story in Partition-era Sindh.
Rai tries to immerse the reader in the setting of the story, using details such as food, culture, folklore, costume, language, and even names to explain how Sindhi families lived in those times. “Interestingly, I have taken all the references for names and food from my family members. The only thing that I had to work hard was to transport my readers to Sukkur because I haven’t ever gone there,” shares the author, adding that he found himself transported to Sindh while doing his research on the area.
When asked why he chose a love story, he confesses that it was important to make the topic more accessible while explaining things happening around that love story. “My hero is Dada, who experiences the pain of Partition the most. But at the same time I wanted to tell a love story because there are many love stories which were torn apart owing to the incident,” reveals the author, opining that any love story becomes bigger when it is backed by history.
While the book portrays a beautiful love between Sadhana and Rehman, it also paints a clear picture of the horrors that the women caught in the Partition had to endure. Sadhana, who gets married to her cousin, loses her husband barely 15 days into the marriage and returns to her parental home. She realises her love for Rehman and plans to escape from her family to be with him, but they are pulled apart once again due to riots, this time for good.
Although the story seems to end here, Rai brings a little twist to the story by introducing the philosophical concept of reincarnation — the love saga is revisited through Abella Alejandro, a 23-year-old Spanish human rights activist who realises that she is the reincarnation of Sadhana, and begins searching for her Rehman. Abella searches high and low for her long-lost lover, all the while continuing her humanitarian work for the Rohingya Muslims in Burma. “I kept it open for the readers. Although Sadhana lives with her husband, one never forgets their first love. That’s what I wanted to bring in the story,” he explains.
When asked about the book’s catchy title, Rai explains the history behind women getting tattoos on their body. He says that women would tattoo their husbands’ names on their hands, believing that even if their skin goes the name would remain. Women were also kidnapped by mobs and made to get tattoos on their private parts.
“My protagonist too gets herself a tattoo on her breast for her loved one, so that her love becomes immortal,” muses the author in conclusion.