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

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By Ila Garg

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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.

faiz-ahmed-faiz-3

 

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.”

SahirLudhianvi

 

 

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”

Amrita_Pritam_(1919_–_2005)_,_in_1948

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

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Science writing: A neglected form of literature that needs focus

Science has more to teach us about ourselves, our past and future, than any preacher, politician or philosopher ever could

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The scientists across various disciplines are dealing with the mysteries of life, the universe and everything else. Wikimedia Commons
The scientists across various disciplines are dealing with the mysteries of life, the universe and everything else. Wikimedia Commons

Along with philosophers, tax lawyers and computer programmers, scientists are perceived as speaking in a language which is supposedly the same as that of common people, but scarcely intelligible to them. And then they use strange symbols, complicated equations, and considerable jargon to talk of “things” unlikely to affect an average person’s life or to be even seen without specialised equipment.

So can scientific writing in any way be even comparable to literature? Yes, for scientists, across various disciplines, are also dealing with the mysteries of life, the universe and everything else, and can express themselves on their subject in ways the most lyrical poet, the most imaginative novelist or the most incisive historian could well envy.

Be it those trying to discern the cosmos’ origin, matter’s structure, the bewildering development and processes of life, including by evolution (despite what some Indian ministers may think), the abundant marvels of nature (including, but beyond humans too), and so on, scientists have written about their work and findings in absorbing ways.

Also Read: Scientists Use Pocket-size Device to Map Human Genetic Code

And in this, they have more to teach us about ourselves, our past and future, than any preacher, politician or philosopher ever could.

Let us take a selection from the last century, which was full of developments across all spheres of science.

And since our existence in terms of our position in the world and the universe is key, we can start with an English physicist, astronomer and mathematician placing things in perspective.

“… we attempt to discover the nature and purpose of the universe which surrounds our home in time and space. Our first impression is something akin to terror. We find the universe terrifying because of its vast meaningless distances, terrifying because of its inconceivably long vistas of time which dwarf human history to the twinkling of an eye, terrifying because of our extreme loneliness, and because of the material insignificance of our home in space — a millionth part of a grain of sand out of all the sea-sand in the world.

Coming to humans, we cannot ignore evolution -- and the contribution of Charles Darwin. Wikimedia Commons
Coming to humans, we cannot ignore evolution — and the contribution of Charles Darwin. Wikimedia Commons

But above all else, we find the universe terrifying because it appears to be indifferent to life like our own; emotion, ambition and achievement, art and religion seem equally foreign to its plan,” wrote Sir James Hopwood Jeans (1877-1946) in “The Mysterious Universe” (1930).

Also Read: Scientists Solve Mystery Of When Flowers Originated

Then, coming to humans, we cannot ignore evolution — and the contribution of Charles Darwin. Among the best to explain its significance is Helena Cronin (b. 1942), a philosopher of biology and co-director of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and the Darwin Centre at the London School of Economics.

“We are all walking archives of ancestral wisdom. Our bodies and minds are live monuments to our forebears’ rare successes. This Darwin has taught us. The human eye, our brain, our instincts, are legacies of natural selection’s victories, embodiments of the cumulative experience of the past,” she says in the beginning of her “The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today” (1991), on one of science’s “foremost achievements” — the Darwinian theory.

Then there are those unravellers of life’s basic building block — DNA structure discoverers James Watson and Francis Crick.

About the moment of discovery, Crick, in his autobiography “What Mad Pursuit” (1988), says his research partner remembers he went into the pub across the road where they launched daily and told everyone they had discovered the secret of life. “Of that, I have no recollection, but I do recall going home and telling (wife) Odile that we seemed to have made a big discovery. Years later she told me that she hadn’t believed a word of it. ‘You were always coming home and saying things like that,’, she said, ‘so naturally, I thought nothing of it’…”

Also Read: Planets Beyond Milky Way Galaxy Discovered For First Time

Watson, after his “The Double Helix” (1968), followed up with “Avoid Boring People” (2007), which has each chapter ending with lessons such as “Never Be The Brightest Person In A Room”, “Avoid Gatherings Of More Two Nobel Prize Winners”, but also “Work On Sundays”, and “Put Lots Of Spin On Balls”.

Switching to the physical world, we cannot ignore possibly the 20th century’s most well-recognised scientist — Albert Einstein. Let’s take his insightful essay, “Religion and Science”, in which he eloquently pleads the case for new, better form of religious experience which will give rise to a new relationship between these two.

After discussing the need-based and the social impulse-based variants which have in common “the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God” and which is only surmounted by “individuals of exceptional endowment”, he comes to a third — “cosmic religious feeling”, which, according to Einstein, “is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research”.

For “only those who realise the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue…”.

Also Read: Is the moon’s surface evolving?

Can there any better exposition of science’s purpose? (IANS)

(Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)