Penning the pain: Tracing the history of partition through Indian literature


By Ila Garg


They say history is for the Kings and Royals, and for common people, there is literature. Partition of 1947 has always been recorded in history from a patriarchal perception. However, literature has tried to approach the mayhem event of partition through a holistic view. At NewsGram, we are attempting to focus on a few writers who gave voices to the hushed up history.

We have writers like Manto and Faiz who have written extensively about the suffering of people and the bloodshed that accompanied the Partition.manto

Manto’s short story, ‘Khol Do’ (Open It) had a huge impact on readers and it continues to speak through silences as the contemporary readers try to interpret it in their own way. His story can be read to get a glimpse of the violence and the horrendous crimes that partition resulted in. Women were the main targets to these atrocities and yet they were not given freedom of expression for a long time. Original version of this story is in Urdu but its translated version is more widely read.

A short excerpt from the story:

That evening there was sudden activity in the camp. He saw four men carrying the body of a young girl found unconscious near the railway tracks. They were taking her to the camp hospital. He began to follow them.
He stood outside the hospital for some time, and then went in. In one of the rooms, he found a stretcher with someone lying on it.
A light was switched on. It was a young woman with a mole on her left cheek. “Sakina!” Sirajuddin screamed.
The doctor, who had switched on the light, stared at Sirajuddin.
“I am her father,” he stammered. The doctor looked at the prostrate body and felt for the pulse. Then he said to the old man, “Open the window.”
The young woman on the stretcher moved slightly. Her hands groped for the cord which kept her salwar tied around her waist. With painful slowness, she unfastened it, pulled the garment down and opened her thighs.
“She is alive. My daughter is alive,” Sirajuddin shouted with joy. The doctor broke into a cold sweat.



While Manto expressed more through his short stories, Faiz Ahmed Faiz did the same through his poems. His ‘Subah-e-Azaadi’ is the most talked about poem in Urdu Literature. It has a touch of revolution and gives gory details of partition.



“Ye daagh daagh ujaalaa, ye shab-gazida sahar,
Wo intzaar tha jiska, ye vo seher toh nahi,
Ye wo seher toh nahin jiski aarzu lekar,
Chale the yaar ke mil jaegi kahi na kahi,
Falak ke dasht mei taaro ki aakhiri manzil,
Kahi toh hoga shab-e-sust mauj ka sahil,
Kahi toh jaake rukega safina-e-gham-e-dil.”




Hindi poets like Sahir Ludhianvi too contributed to the partition literature by echoing similar emotions. Ludianvi’s ‘Wo Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi’ is indicative of reviving hope in difficulties. The tone might be a little mellow but it conveys his ideas quite well.



“Inn Kaali Sadiyo Ke Sar Se, Jab Raat Kaa Aanchal Dhalkega
Jab Dukh Ke Badal Pighalenge, Jab Sukh Ka Sagar Chhalkega
Jab Ambar Jhoom Ke Naachega, Jab Dharti Nagame Gaaegi
Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi, Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi
Jis Subah Ke Khatir Jug Jug Se, Hum Sab Mar Mar Ke Jite Hai”


Among the various approaches to the misfortunate event, Punjabi poet, Amrita Pritam’s voice emerged out. She stood as a rebel and reasserted her identity as a woman. Through her poetry, she expressed a strong will to liberate herself from the shackles of patriarchy.

Her poem ‘Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nu’ is centered on her appeal to Waris Shah to come and listen to the crying daughters of Punjab. Till date, the poem holds significance and doesn’t cease to influence people with its powerful words.

Pritam’s poetry reflects her rebellious nature, though her only limitation was geographical boundary.

Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nuu,
Kiton Qabraan Wichon Bol,
Tey Ajj Kitaab-e-Ishq Daa,
Koi Agla Warka Khol
Ikk Royi Sii Dhi Punjab Di,
Tu Likh Likh Maarey Wain,
Ajj Lakhaan Dhiyan Rondiyan,
Tenu Waris Shah Nuu Kain