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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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Angola Fossils Bring A New But Familiar Ocean in View

These fossils are the patrimony of Angola, these are their heritage, and for us to be able to bring them to the Smithsonian and ultimately back to Angola.

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Angola Fossils
This full-size fossil reconstruction of a sea turtle from the prehistoric South Atlantic looks very similar to the giant sea turtles which still swim in our oceans today. VOA

Some may be familiar with mythical sea monsters. For example, Scotland’s infamous Loch Ness Monster “Nessie,” and Giganto — fictional beasts of comic book fame. But millions of years ago, real-life sea monsters lived and thrived in what we now call the South Atlantic Ocean.

South Atlantic Ocean basin

As the continents of South America and Africa separated millions of years ago, scientists say a fantastic array of ferocious predators and other lifeforms colonized the newly formed body of water off the coast of Angola.

That diverse collection of marine reptiles included mosasaurs (aquatic lizards), plesiosaurs (which exhibited broad flat bodies, large paddlelike limbs, and typically a long flexible neck and small head), and the more familiar giant sea turtles.

But a catastrophic asteroid that hit earth 66 million years ago wiped most of them out, according to scientists.

Today, thanks to a project called Projecto PaleoAngola among Angolan, American, Portuguese and Dutch researchers, paleontologists have been able to visit the coastal cliffs of Angola to excavate and study what remains of these giant animals.

“We knew that there were fossils there, we just didn’t know how good they would be,” says Louis Jacobs, collaborating curator and professor emeritus of paleontology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

“Nobody had been there, so this was a vast, unknown terrain and we wanted to get there.”

A 72-million year-old ecosystem

What the team of paleontologists discovered was a treasure trove, giving them an unprecedented look into a strange yet familiar ecosystem.

In addition to mosasaurs, plesiosaurs and sea turtles, there were fossilized remains of a variety of fish and other marine life forms.

Angola, fossils
Modern cliffs of coastal Angola where Projecto PaleoAngola paleontologists excavate fossils of life that once lived in Angola’s ancient seas. VOA

While mosasaurs have been known to exist on all continents and are relatively common in certain places, this particular sample is the largest collection of southern hemisphere mosasaurs known, according to the paleontologists.

“It’s certainly the best locality for these kinds of animals in sub-Saharan Africa and it could be one of the best in the world,” Jacobs said.

Rediscovering a lost world

Eleven authentic fossils from Angola’s ancient seas, full-size reconstructions of a mosasaur and an ancient sea turtle are on display for the first time in a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, titled “Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas.”

There are also 3-D scanned replicas of mosasaur skulls, and photo-murals and video vignettes transport visitors to field sites along Angola’s modern rugged coast, where Projecto PaleoAngola scientists unearthed the fossil remains from this lost world.

 

Angola, fosiils
The seafaring lizard Prognathodon kianda was a top predator in the Cretaceous waters. Scientists named this species after Kianda, the ruler of the ocean in Angolan mythology. VOA

 

Jacobs, who was part of a team of scientists and students at SMU that helped prepare the fossils for the Smithsonian exhibit, says any visitor “can look and see and compare how the ecosystem and its animals of the cretaceous of 72 million years ago are similar to ecosystems today in the same general areas.”

“The species are different, but the ecological jobs of the species are very similar,” he added.

Giant lizards

Michael Polcyn, senior research fellow at SMU, pointed out an example in the exhibit.

Standing in front of a fossil skull and partial skeleton of a mosasaur, he described the reptile as an “optimized fish eater.”

“You see the long narrow snout, the interlocking teeth — this would be similar to what you would see in the ocean today, in a dolphin for instance,” he said.

He gestured to a graphic posted on the display case depicting a rough toothed dolphin which it described as “the analog for the animal in the modern ecosystem.”

Angola Fossils
An artist’s rendering of Angola’s Cretaceous seas 72 million years ago, dominated by many species of large, carnivorous marine reptiles. VOA

Shell-crushing mosasaur

Another great example of diversity within that ancient ecosystem is the hardshell-eating mosasaur, Polcyn said, which preyed on large oysters which were almost a meter (three feet) across.

“They were really big, so to crack an oyster three feet across you needed the dentition and the musculature to do that, and that’s what you see here in these very strange mushroom-shaped teeth that you see in this animal,” Polcyn explained.

Within the same ecosystem was another example of a top predator, the Prognathodon kianda. Its full-scale skeleton on display in the museum is almost eight meters long.

In addition to top predators like the monster-like mosasaur, the exhibit also includes fossils of gentler creatures; small fish and an ancient giant sea turtle.

“We have a snapshot of this moment in time 72 million years ago that has preserved all of these animals that were living together in one place,” Polcyn said.

Angola Fossils
This mosasaur fossil skull shows how its mushroom-shaped teeth were optimized to crack hard-shell prey like giant oysters. VOA

The big dig

Jacobs says the fossil find in Angola was a big deal for a number of reasons:

“First of all because it’s going into a country that never really had a heritage of fossils,” he said. “It basically was unknown at the level that we are opening it up.”

“Fossils,” he says, “instill a sense of pride in what’s in the country, and it provides something to use for education, and it builds science. And the way it builds science is because every country has fossils, so every country has something to offer, so every country is a piece of the puzzle and the Angola piece is now there.”

Michael Polcyn agrees that unearthing this cache of ancient fossils has been a huge breakthrough on a number of fronts.

Also Read: New Artifacts Found in Cairo, Egypt: Archaeologists

“From a purely scientific point of view it gives us an incredible window into an ecosystem 72 million years ago that is relatively complete,” he says. “From a very human point of view this really shows the people of Angola, and the people of the world, what incredible resources we have in our natural environments.”

And lastly, he says, “These fossils are the patrimony of Angola, these are their heritage, and for us to be able to bring them to the Smithsonian and ultimately back to Angola, on a very personal level, is a thrill for us.” (VOA)