Prime minister asking a favour? Drawing The Line is a big story well told

11 Dec

Metro

Imagine the scene: out of the blue the prime minister asks you a favour.

Would you decide how India should be partitioned for him? You know nothing about the subcontinent or its politics, and there’s absolutely no chance of satisfying the demands of the groups involved in this huge geographical carve-up but you say yes anyway.

It sounds fantastical but that’s what happened in 1947 when Clement Atlee summoned Cyril Radcliffe, a judge who cited a trip to Venice as his biggest adventure abroad, and told him he had five weeks to settle the boundary between India and Pakistan.

Howard Brenton’s tale of Radcliffe’s delirium-inducing visit to the British Raj sees him confidentally sketching a series of portraits of major 20th-century political figures (Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah, Atlee et al).

It’s a big story, with a lot of background information and cartographical detail to be conveyed. But it’s economically and resonantly…

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