MY SECOND novel, Hidden Fires, is an unlikely friendship story between two unlikely protagonists.

Characters like Yusuf, an elderly Asian man, widowed and living alone in Bradford, are not often seen in the pages of a book. The same can also be said of Rubi, a biracial, 16-year-old teenager from Manchester who is obsessed with 80s music. There is something that connects the two of them, though at the start of the book, it is a superficial bond only in name.

Yusuf is Rubi’s only remaining grandparent, and a twist of fate means they are forced to live together while Rubi’s parents make an emergency trip aboard. Comedic chaos between these two mismatched individuals ensues.

A trip to London in the weeks following the Grenfell Tower fire planted the idea for the novel. It was 2017, and despite the sombre welcome the capital gave me, I was buzzing with anticipation as I made the train journey down to meet my publisher for the first time. I was 24, still in the middle of my PhD studies at the University of Huddersfield when a chance meeting with Lisa Milton, executive publisher at HarperCollins, meant that my dreams of being an author were almost within reach.

I couldn’t wait to discuss my debut with them, but all they could ask me was if I was writing a second book. I wasn’t, but of course, I nodded my head convincingly. I spent a few sleepless nights in the weeks that followed, worrying that I would never have another good idea again.

During that summer, a number of BBC documentaries aired to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India. This wasn’t a new discovery for me, despite the fact that family had never discussed it or that it was never a subject that was included in the curriculum at school. Through my own curiosity over the years, I knew enough about the Partition to make me want to learn more. In the latest BBC documentaries, a lot of elderly men were interviewed. They were children or young adults when they lived through this historic event. For some of them, it was the first time they had spoken about the Partition, the first time they had even been asked. The emotion poured from them as they relived the horrific memories. As I watched them, I realised that I had found Yusuf.

In my hometown of Bradford, Yusuf was everywhere. Old Asian men wearing Jinnah caps visiting the corner shops, the mosques, the doctors, the butchers. I thought about the elderly men from the documentaries. That silent and stoic generation who had lived quietly and who rarely complained. They were suddenly right in front of me. How many of them had witnessed the Partition of India? How many had survived the unimaginable terror? How many had locked the memories away and thrown away the keys?

The first chapter of Hidden Fires wrote itself, fully inspired by the events of that summer of 2017. Yusuf wakes up in the middle of the night to pray his namaz. It is Ramadan and when he switches on the television, he sees Grenfell Tower burning. This triggers a series of violent flashbacks to his own past, the one where he was a ten-year-old child, running for his life in the newly carved nations of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Since the release of the book, I have been asked the same question multiples times: why the Partition? Why choose to write about this terrifying, bloody period of history? Frankly, because this is British history, the shared history of Britain and the subcontinent.

Rubi comes into her grandfather’s life to explore this legacy, why it matters, and why we, as the generations that have descended from the Empire, should always remember, honour and commemorate the sacrifices and the lives lost. It seems more important than ever for people to know where they came from. We should know why we are where we are.

It may seem like a difficult time to be doing that at the moment. What have we, humankind, learnt about the genocides, massacres and wars of the past when the world right now feels just as unbearable? What can a 75-year-old event which left over a million people dead teach us about who we are now? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. It is something I have grappled with myself before coming to the same conclusion each time: powerful leaders may have made, and are still making, catastrophic decisions which result in the deaths of so many people, whether we are talking about Partition, Grenfell, or, in the case of the now, Gaza, Sudan and Congo. But the people are good. The people will always march, the people will always advocate, share, amplify, donate, pray, raise their voices. Whether 1947, 2017 or 2024.

And as in the case of a grandpa and granddaughter duo known as Yusuf and Rubi, the people will always find love, comfort and warmth in the most unexpected of places.

*Sairish’s first novel, the Costa shortlisted  The Family Tree is also available.