Partition and sins of big three
Front: what it is and what it should be
sensibility but poet in tearing hurry
|A sideways glance at Punjab events
Contemporary Political Leadership in India: Parkash Singh Badal by S.R. Bakshi, S.R. Sharma and S Gajrani.
APH Publishing Corporation, New Delhi. Pp. 243. Rs 500.
Hear them say
the way they live
Partition and sins of big three
The Great Divide: Britain-India-Pakistan by H.V. Hodson with a new introduction. Oxford University Press, Karachi. Pp. xl+590. Rs 450.
AMONG the large, and now fairly impressive, corpus of serious studies on Indias Independence and partition both came together "The Great Divide" occupies an important place. Convincingly evidenced by the fact that since its publication almost three decades ago (1969), it has reappeared twice over. First in 1985 and now in 1997.
In its essence, the hard core has remained untouched; the 1985 edition appended a 25-page Epilogue covering events since the partition while the new edition, under review, surveys the intervening ground in a fresh 42-page introduction, "Fifty years on".
That the author has resisted the temptation of rewriting his old narrative argues powerfully in favour of his conclusion that in its essentials, his account has stood the test of time. And is as relevant today as when it was originally composed.
It should follow that the intelligent reader would do well to have a good acquaintance with Hodsons broad theme and thrust. So as to be able to fit in his later reflections on the shape of things as they emerged in the aftermath of the great divide, the trauma of 1947. Placing thereby the Epilogue as well as his "Fifty years on" in their proper perspective.
Hodsons five-part large, if impressive, tome of over 600 pages revolves mainly though by no means exclusively around its middle, the third part. It is the story of Mountbatten "The last of the Viceroys". And what he did and why? His brief tenure March 23 to August 14, 1947, as Viceroy of united India constitutes as it were the centrepiece of the high drama leading to partition and its aftermath.
Here Hodson discusses at length such crucial issues as Mountbattens talks with the Indian political leaders, the accession of the princely states, the problem of the armed forces, the manner in which the June 3 plan took shape and form. Reduced to brasstacks, Hodson set himself the task of enquiring as to how and why the "self-liquidation" of the Empire began, giving birth to the "two new great Sovereign States".
Without going into too many details, some of the conclusions Hodson has drawn deserve to be noted. To start with, he posits the view that "given the basic and rival objectives" of the three great participants the British, stable government; the Congress, national independence; the League, security of Muslims from Hindu raj all three "must share responsibility" for bringing about the unenviable situation that confronted them in 1947.
Insofar as the Congress made the "worst errors", it paid "most dearly" in the sacrifice of its ideals. Again, by the time Mountbatten arrived the possibility of any other answer than total partition was "extremely remote". The great divide imposed "a draconian solution" which resulted in an orgy of "hideous bloodshed and rapine" in the North-West. And the demise of princely autocracies.
More, the direct consequences of the divide linguistic and regional conflicts, strife on the tribal fringe, the Indo-Pak confrontation were all "continuing expressions of readjustment" after that stupendous historical drama.
The men who played important roles in this "revolutionary time" were no mere puppets, much less "corks on a torrent flooding from a burst dam". Yet clearly they "could not" have withstood forces "far stronger than any policy, any government, any administrative machine". Some of them were great men but Mountbatten "was among the greatest".
Now in his early nineties and with the hindsight of half a century after the events of 1947, Hodson has some interesting observations to make. And it is instructive to ponder over some of them. Answering the oft-repeated accusation that the British betrayed a trust in dividing the land before they quit, Hodson is of the view that a single Indian nation state, if established in 1947, "would have been inherently unstable in its communal chemistry".
Again, the fact that Pakistan had to wait for more than a decade and a half before it forged a permanent, home-made Constitution (1973) was due largely to the fact that the Muslim League which assumed the reins of government had no clear political and social agenda. Being "essentially a pressure group for communal causes", all the way from separate electorates to an independent Muslim state.
Reverting to the troubled legacy of the Kashmir dispute, Hodson lists various acts of omission and commission, both by New Delhi as well as Islamabad. The latter, he avers, was "wrong", to give a green signal to the tribal invasion which was clearly in breach of the letter and spirit of the pact for the transfer of power. Again, Mountbatten was "wrong" to accept the chairmanship of the Indian Cabinets Defence Committee. By becoming an instrument of the executive, he prejudiced his proper role as a constitutional Governor-General.
And finally the Indian government, "specifically" Nehru and Patel, were wrong in pressing for accepting the Maharajas accession to India which they "mistakenly" saw as necessary to validate the dispatch of armed forces into a friendly neighbouring state to help defend it against external aggression. They were "also wrong" in their "permanent hostility" toward a reference to the UN. And taking no steps to implement the letters recommendations about a plebiscite.
Hodson is also critical of Mountbattens role in regard to the incorporation of Hyderabad into the Indian dominion. As Governor General he was supposed to act, save in a crisis, upon the advice of his government: "instead, his government were constrained, often reluctantly, to act upon his advice." And not only in regard to Hyderabad, and earlier Kashmir. But the whole pattern of events from August, 1947 (when he took over as Governor-General of India) to June, 1948 (his departure for home) had been moulded "not by constitutional niceties but by the masterful personality and unique prestige" in India that Mountbatten had acquired.
Was the last British Viceroy wrong in accelerating the handover of sovereign power by the best part of a year, from June, 1947, to August, 1948? For this "seemingly rash policy" led to fearful disorder and worse. Hodson is less than sure if there could have been further postponement beyond August, 1947 and cites Ismays considered view that successive British governments had "little by little divested themselves of power" in India.
No wonder, the February 20 (1947) statement of Attlee about the definite intention of the British to quit by June (1948) had been the "last straw" in creating a situation "in which they were no longer able to discharge their responsibilities". That testimony, Hodson insists, must be reckoned as "conclusive".
All the same, he enters a caveat. Mountbattens accelerated time table, had "assumed" that the two dominions (nations) would have, in their early days, a common Governor-General. Jinnahs insistence that he himself would be Pakistans first Governor-General "torpedoed" that expectation. In the event, Mountbattens acceptance of the Governor-Generalship of India "made him a partisan" in the cascade of events between August, 1947, and September, 1948, and "undermined" his role as a moderator and peacemaker.
A great deal of "controversy and recrimination" surrounds Sir Cyril Radcliffes late amendment of his boundary award in the North-West in the area of Ferozepore. Hodson is convinced that the allegation that Mountbatten brought pressure to bear on Radcliffe to alter his award is "basically improbable". And for the simple reason that "no one has shown what pressure he could exert". Radcliffe was an eminent lawyer with no political or social aspirations which Mountbatten could affect. On the contrary, he had every interest in "preserving his own reputation" for independence, impartiality and cool judgement.
For his part Mountbatten had been careful all long "not to intervene" in Radcliffes task: "his own reputation was at stake as well as Radcliffes". To no ones surprise, he has refused to revise his earlier account (1969) for, barring minor particulars, it "remains basically correct".
A word on the author and his Indian connection. Apart from his rich academic and journalistic background, as a Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford (1928-35) and editor of the Sunday Times (1950-61), Hodson had a brief stint (1941-42) as Constitutional Adviser to Linlithgow. Affording him a unique opportunity to gain an insight into the tangled web of Indian politics and politicians.
He had free access to Mountbattens private papers and his reports besides long talks with him. More, the last Viceroy read his manuscript, made "many valuable comments" yet did not alter his conclusions much less press any amendments.
Hodson interacted with a number of Indian and Pakistani friends, including V.P. Menon and Mohammed Ali Choudhury who later rose to be his countrys Prime Minister. Among his British informants were such heavyweights as Sir George Abell, Field Marshal Auchinleck, Sir Olaf Caroe, Sir Conrad Corfield and Sir Panderal Moon.
Hodsons father T.C. Hodson, who later became Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge, was a member of the ICS and, in the 1890s, had served in Assam where he made studies of the Nagas and some neighbouring tribes.
How does Hodsons account differ in content and emphasis from that of V.P. Menon, Mushirul Hasan, B.R. Nanda, Tara Chand and a host of others who have researched and written authoritatively on the subject? In one important respect. Hodson was, in many ways it would appear, an "insider" who makes the candid admission that insofar as his sources and outlook were "predominantly British", his viewpoint "cannot but" be British.
The "Great Divide" is a handsome tribute to the honesty and integrity with which this viewpoint has been so lucidly spelt out.
Left Front: what it is and what it should be
Micro-foundations of Bengal Communism by Harihar Bhattacharya. Ajanta Books. Delhi. Pp. ix+196. Rs 200.
SINCE the very inception of the communist movement in India, Bengal has been in its forefront. In the early 20th century,the most well-known communist leader from India, M N Roy, came from Bengal. He was a member of the first Comintern and was the founder of the Communist Party of Mexico. As a leader and a theoretician in the upper ranks, he saw the emerging crisis in the communist movement in the early thirties. From M N Roy to Charu Mazumdar, Bengal has produced remarkable leaders of the Left, who had a lasting impact on the theory and practice of communism in India.
Theoretical questioning in the communist movement has remained a central characteristic of Marxist philosophy and its followers. Unlike any other form of politics, where equations are simpler, communists are known to read and write volumes on their differences with those in and out of the movement. In the process, real battles of conspiracy and power struggle evolve, leaving blood-stained pages in history books. Nothing is more unfortunate than this aspect of orthodox communism because barring schools of anarchism, no other thought has produced individuals truly committed to the welfare of the humanity in such large numbers as the communist movement.
To outsiders or those who know nothing beyond the mainstream, the Bengal communists are the ruling Left Front in West Bengal or its major partner, the CPM. In spite of largescale opposition from large sections of communists in India, CPM has remained a dominant and successful force representing the Left in Indian politics. Jyoti Basu, the octogenarian Chief Minister of West Bengal and the most well-known of CPM leaders, almost became the Prime Minister of India in 1996. He has been at the helm in West Bengal for 21 years now and age remains the only challenge to him. With this in view the claim in the blurb on Harihar Bhattacharyas book, "Micro-foundations of Bengal Com-munism" that "Bengal communism remains neglected by Indians" seems justified.
Bhattacharya presents empirical data obtained from primarily the districts of Burdwan and Hooghly for a critical analysis and evaluation of Bengal communism. He is a lecturer in the University of Burdwan. This district has been a traditional stronghold of the communists and the mass peasant movement was completely controlled by the CPM. The most well-known of its peasant movement leaders like Harekrishna Konar came from Burdwan. Some of the most violent anti-landlord actions by peasants took place in the villages of this district in the late sixties.
Bhattacharya takes recourse to the post-modern frame of criticism, frequently quoting the contemporary discourse on power and yet dissociating himself from it right in the introduction: "Foucaults is a post-modern analysis of modern power; ours is a modern analysis of modern power". He goes to great lengths to prove that the communists repesent a "modern" power that excludes people from the process of power, of decision-making and action.
Unfortunately, as with all other Left writings of internal criticism, an ordinary reader is unlikely to realise that the frame of reference is not the non-communist bourgeois politics, rather it is the ideal socialist democracy. In fact, Bhattacharya is quite unhappy about the fact that "West Bengal under the communists since 1977 has experienced development without democracy ... in the bourgeois sense of the word."
Thus while the details of the party structure, demographic and development data spread through six chapters and 52 tables will be of interest to the general reader, the somewhat confused polemical theory is not going to convey the desired sense. He rightly attacks the Leninist-Stalinist control of the party hierarchy, and yet does not clearly explain why he looks up to the communists for a fundamental reorientation in their theory and in ensuring peoples participation in the polity.
The problem is that interpreting data as they appear is one thing and theorising with post-structuralist jargon in less than a dozen pages is another. The amount of serious work required for such an exercise, especially if the desire is to produce a book of general interest, is clearly more than what the author offers.
Bhattacharyas contention is not that people are not represented. His argument is that in the institutions of power (panchayats, etc.) the control is not in their hands. Ironically, while developing this micro-observation to the macro-level theory, he (perhaps) assumes that the readers are generally aware that in the non-Left states of India, even the representation is suspect (where it exists). The fact is that people are overwhelmed with the "knowledge" that everything is wrong with the Left and only the converted believe that much good has also come out of it. More technically, we live in a society that is clearly under the hegemony of the ruling classes (and castes and gender, etc).
Besides, throughout its history, specially in the post-independent years, the communist movement has never clearly dealt with the constraints imposed by the dominant representation of the middle and upper middle classes in its leadership. In other words, in the Indian circumstances, more than the party per se, the class character of the leadership has also been a serious problem. When a middle class leader has seriously attempted to declass himself, the reactionary forces have reacted violently and effectively. Shankar Guha-Niyogi is the most recent example. Perhaps the most remarkable revolutionary of post-independent India, who inspired hundreds of intellectuals to join him in the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha movement following his slogan of "struggle and reform", was shot dead. No other leader in this country could be as much a part of the people as Guha-Niyogi.
That the Left rule has had a significant effect on the plebeian and the elite is recognised by Bhattacharya when he stresses the migration of the landlords and rich peasants from rural Burdwan to urban areas during 1981-91. The historical analysis of demography and industrial growth (or the lack of it) given by the author is interesting and gives insights into the nature of communism in Bengal. Limited growth in literacy and the non-emergence of a modern working class are cited as major failures of the movement.
The book is divided into four major chapters on urban grassroots democracy, rural cooperatives, panchayats and micro communist organisations as social bases of power. The attempt is to develop theoretical arguments based on empirical data. But, as I said earlier, the agenda seems to be pre-conceived. As Foucault said: "Each society has its own regime of truth, its general politics of truth: that is the type of discourse which it accepts..." The author is not above the Indian society that accepts a discourse in the framework of its own truth. Thus, while he seems obviously agonised at the discrepancy between what the party is and what it should be, he fails to convince the reader of his equally obvious belief that it could be different and truly democratic.
As a teacher in a university in Bengal, writing a book like this is not free of risks. Political intervention in academia is a fact of life in this country. Bhattacharya should be lauded for his courage to express his beliefs in clear terms.
Amarjeet Kaunke is one of the most important new generation poets in Punjabi. He has published five anthologies of poems which have evoked a mixed response from readers and literary critics. Apart from this, he has published half a dozen translations as well and has written an original book in Hindi "Muthi bhar roshni" which won for him a literary award from the Punjab Languages Department.
The present anthology of poems, "Shabad rahange kol", contains about four dozen poems which have a common thematic strand. The poet expresses his strong feelings of love in various situations and in its myriad facets. At one place love is infatuation, at another it appears as nostalgia. In some poems love is related to the structure of the kinship system and in others as a bare biological phenomenon outside any social bonds.
Some of the poems are concerned with the creative process and the role of words in poetic realisation of feelings and ideas. The poet has an ultra, sensitive ear for sound, of every decibel. He says, "thaan thaan sade pairan wich/aawajan uljhdian/bachian de vilkan di aawaj/kise de siskan di aawaj/kade aawajan aundian/Purkhian dian/vaste paundian."
Everywhere sound is entangled in our feet. Sound of children whimpering and whining or of somebody sobbing aloud and sometimes the helpless call of ancestors abound.
The dazed poet, however, finds himself caught on an uneven terrain of sound where he stops for a moment in the company of his love. They stop and think for a moment and are startled; then they move hand in hand in search of invisible light. But the mysterious light of words and sound that creates a poem does not exist in a vacuum. Words, sound and meanings belong to the people and the poet realises this fact when he says, "The first word of every poem is created by the people. The first poem grows out of the mind of common man."
But the poet lives in seclusion and while sitting in a dark and dank room he writes a poem about the sun though there is no sunlight in it. He writes a poem about flowers though the windows are closed and he cannot have a glimpse of them. He writes a poem about the moon and the stars though they are not visible through the ventilators.
Similarly he writes a poem about peacocks which are coming back after a long time and their colourful feathers are unfolding in a magnificent spectacle of nature. The call of the peacocks reverberates through the dark expanse of night. May be the peacocks have always been here. They were momentarily scared by the ubiquitous blasts which had frozen the poets senses as well. But now as the blasts have stopped, the poet can see the peacocks dancing and singing in the fields.
The arrival of the new dawn sends the poet into a sensuous reverie. He says, "I abound in love as the ocean abounds in water, eyes abound in tears, lips abound in smile, the earth abounds in grain, life abounds in water, breath abounds in air, birds abound in sky, wings abound in flight, words abound in poet, warmth abounds in words, innocence abounds in a child's eyes, journey abounds in feet, dreams abound in eyes, music abounds in the pipe, fire abounds in wood and heat abounds in the sun."
On the basis of this love, he expresses his inexpressible desire in the poem "Khahish" "Keep me clung to you like the clothes on your body, like the nuptial stipple on your forehead, like bracelets on your forearms, like the necklace around your neck, like the tinkling anklets on your ankles and the buttons on your blouse."
The poet devises different ways and means to meet his love who may not readily oblige him. The absence always tugs at the heart. But when they meet all complaints, grouses and grievances melt like snow in summer on high hills, which then becomes a clear and cool spring in the vale of love where ideas and opinions immediately coincide. She then promises, "Aapan ise taran/Milange sada/chor darwajian 'chon nikal ke/Main chanania ratan 'ch/Tere kol awangi/Te terian akhhan ch takkdi/Muhabbat da geet gungunawangi." We will keep meeting like this for ever, sneaking through secret doors; I will visit you on moonlit nights; look into your eyes while crooning songs of love.
They depart hoping to meet again but on a different terrain "Meet me at a place where the sun is extinguished and the wind stands still so that the fragrance of the bodies is not shared by anybody else."
But the poet is not sure of himself. He has his own apprehensions. His self control may fail him in her presence. So he says, "Tun oh dharti hai/Jis wichon utthdi mehak pachhan ke/Mere andar ghore/sarpat dauran lagde ne/Unan dian tappan di aawaj/Zamin aasman de kann cheerdi...."(You are the soil with a familiar fragrance that unleashes untamed horses in my veins. Their hoofbeats pierce through the ears of the earth and the skies.)
Again, the consequence of the meeting is the same. The neighing horses in a frenzy fall lifeless like logs when they reach her. Yet her company is a source of inspiration that sustains the poet. Using the epical metaphor of Abhimanyu, he says, "Maybe at times I am caught in the maelstrom of inexorable events. Maybe my father Arjuna is waging his battle with the wily Shakuni over there. I may be drenched with torrential rain of treacherous arrows. Precisely at that moment I want you to become a broken wheel of a chariot held in my hands... though there will be a thousand storms and devastating gales, I can weather all if you are with me."
From the sensual, intimate relation, the poet at long last craves for the sun in its radiating, dazzling brilliance all around the world. He says, "I like the sun of summer solstice, blazing in climactic glory from the tallest peak of the world. The eyes are dazzled as the glittering shafts are shot at the mighty bust of darkness lodged in the inky caves."
Then the sun must go down. Its radiance is not tolerated by the myopic generation used to unnatural light and optic props. The poet in the end is disappointed at the turn of events. He laments thus: "Who will read the poems in this weather, when the entire world has broken into your room through the cable; when the children are lost in video games, the women are lost in getting hairdos in beauty parlours and the menfolk are lost in the arithmatics of the share market."
Poetry in this age of automation must become prosaic. The rhythmic lilt of lyricism has gone out of fashion. Conventional song and music now have become a composition of hoarse and gruff voices which sound jarring to the new generation.
Amarjeet Kaunke with all his poetic delicacy, at times sounds a little blatant and loud. Perhaps the reason is that he sometimes recycles stale poetic images. No doubt most of the the imagery is fresh yet the poems at places are dotted with clichés.
Also the poems here lack a socio-historical vision waiting to be presented through appropriate metaphors and symbols. Intimate relationship is only one aspect of life; the other dimensions are no less important.
Needless to say Kaunke has a lot of potential but he needs a little more creative perseverance in order to merit comparison with the masters of the art.
Contemporary Political Leadership in India: Parkash Singh Badal by S.R. Bakshi, S.R. Sharma and S Gajrani. APH Publishing Corporation, New Delhi. Pp. 243. Rs 500.
FEW writers in India have brought under the microscope Indias contemporary political leadership, as is being often done in the West. One reason could be that being contemporary in nature, the politicians doings and undoings have to wait for a proper assessment. The other could be a woeful lack of competent writers who could weave together the life and times of a well-known personality into a readable tale. And insofar as good political autobiography is concerned, few will deny that with an honourable exception or two, most of our politicians do not know how to write (well), and if they do, they would not be the politicians and the leaders that they happen to be in todays India.
It is in this light that one has to examine the present work which though purporting to be an in-depth study of Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister of Punjab, is in essence a hurried journey through the long history of the border state. Badal is there but only in passing, not as the central figure. It is all the way the Akalis, Congress, SGPC, "mahants" in the Golden Temple in the twenties, the Gurnam Singh and the Lachman Singh Gill ministries, and free power and water to farmers under Badals stewardship, which seek to arouse the readers interest in a meandering cut-and-paste job. Nearly half the book is crammed with clippings from some of the dailies published in English from New Delhi.
Yet, where the authors have something of their own to say, there are some pretty readable passages and sound analysis. The reasons for the collapse of the two Akali Dal-led coalitions sound reasonable enough. Struggle for power within the Akali Dal itself, frequent clashes between the so-called liberal and radical Akalis, the language tussle between the Jan Sangh and the Akalis, the covert role of the Congress in ministry-making or ministry-breaking in Punjab, weightage given to the Jan Sangh in the coalition ministries, and the lack of ideological affinity amongst the coalition partners, are some of the causes why Akali governance had floundered.
The Anandpur Sahib resolution, about which so much has been written and yet so little has been understood, comes in for special mention in this book. There are three Anandpur Sahib resolutions, as the authors bring out. One was adopted by the Akali Dal (Talwandi), the other is identified with Kapur Singh, and the third adopted by the working committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal at its meeting at Sri Anandpur Sahib in October, 1973, and released by Giani Ajmer Singh, the then secretary of the Akali Dal. "No Anandpur Sahib resolution talks about secession from India but it has become a part of propaganda issue," say the authors.
The 12 resolutions passed at Anandpur Sahib call for giving a "federal shape (in the Indian constitutional infrastructure) by redefining the Central and State relations", and requests the early handover of Chandigarh to Punjab and the "vacation" of "the excesses being committed on the settlers in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh in the name of land reforms by making suitable amendments in the ceiling law". Nothing much wrong in any of these demands. Udham Singh Nagar had not come up then, but the Akalis had possibly seen the shape of things to come and acted to safeguard the interests of the Punjabi farmers there.
The resolution dealing with education and culture too makes interesting reading. "The Shiromani Akali Dal regards educationists, scientists, philosophers, poets, writers and artists of the Sikh nation as its most prized asset", but it is about time the state government translated its lofty ideals into a reality.
The authors of the book under review have called it an encyclopaedia on the emerging pattern of the new kind of political leadership when "regional, caste and religious character" certainly matters. This has always been the case in India. What, however, makes the difference very perceptible between one leader and another is the degree of maturity in thought and action and a cool and unflappable exterior that promises continuity and stability. Both these ingredients Badal seems to possess and these should see him through as Punjabs third time Chief Minister.
Yet there could be a major turbulence in the Akali-BJP alliance, a situation that this book quoting source material from a national daily, has not failed to note. "However, the ticklish issue before the SAD-BJP combine government will crop up in the form of a demand to withdraw the states defence of the policemen facing charges of murders in the Supreme Court (sic). The SAD will be under pressure from its caders not to defend these policemen who had allegedly unleashed a reign of state terrorism in the name of counter- terrorism and in the process had liquidated several hundred young men, including innocent ones. On the other hand, the BJP, which never minced words to oppose terrorism, would oppose such a move as that would lead to demoralisation among the policemen who effectively curbed the menace of terrorism in the state."
This book is not a biography of Parkash Singh Badal or a historical account of the state of Punjab. Yet it is an interesting account of the land and its people, of its sardars and their misls, its Akali and the Singh Sabha movements, and its virile peasants who have rarely recognised a master. It is not a writing wonder, but at least you do not get bored with it.
Himmat Singh Gill
Hear them say the way they live
So That You Can Know Me:An Anthology of Pakistani Women Writers edited by Yasmin Hameed and Asif Aslam Farrukhi. UNESCO collection of representative works. Harper Collins, New Delhi. Pp. 162. Rs 145.
"SUDDENLY the tracks behind us are obliterated like the marks of insects on restless waves of shifting sands; like the languid streams of reminiscences that cross and cross again and get mixed up slowly with a faint sound like suppressed weeping. The roads we have trodden disappear and we find it impossible to go back the way we came. Nothing ever comes back and the seething crowd which had gathered to enjoy the festivities of the fair moves forward, on and on. Time never returns, never retraces its steps".
The book "So That You Can Know Me", is a collection of 17 short stories by Pakistani women writers. Covering a range of topics that touch our lives in one way or the other. These stories reflect how similar Pakistani society was and is to our own.
These stories, all written in the post-partition period (or post-Independence, if you prefer), have been translated from different languages and dialects that make up the unique fabric of Pakistan Urdu, Punjabi, Pushto, Sindhi, Seraiki. They were first published by the Pakistani Academy of Letters.
"Farewell to the bride" which has been translated from Urdu by Moneeza Hashmi, deals with the pain and madness of partition. A well-told story, it revolves around the time of partition and a young girl who is the only survivor of her family whose members were killed a few days earlier by a mob that broke into her home. What gave them away was the soapy water that she had finished washing her face with, which was coming out of the house into an open drain in the street.
"Banishment" by Jamila Hashmi is a poignant and touching story about a young girl who is picked up by Gurpal, a young man who along with a mob loots and plunders a house during partition. He takes the young girl home to his mother saying:"Look here Ma, I have brought a daughter-in-law for you. Young, charming and healthy. She is the best of the bunch of girls we got our hands on tonight."
"Since that fateful night many daughters-in-law had been brought to this village. But there were no festivities. No music was played nor did village belles sing joyous marriage songs to the accompaniment of the dholak. And the dancers did not perform. That night no one applied oil to my dust covered hair. No one dressed me up for my wedding night. With bare, unadorned hands I became a bride and without any ceremony my marriage was consummated. Overnight I became Maajis Bahu. No one blessed me! No ritual offerings were made to the poor!"
This story shows how the young girl picked up and kept at home like a bahu yearns to go back to her home, to her brothers who loved her so much. She quietly stays physically with the man who picked her up but her mind and heart are with her family from whom she was so cruelly separated. She waits anxiously for one of her brothers to take her back but when finally the day comes and all those from "the other side of the border" are being sent back, she finds its too late for her.
"In my new home, I had endured pain and hunger and Badi Mas beatings and Gurpals abuses in the hope that some day Bhayya or Bhai might come to Sangraon looking for me. Then I would look benevolently at Badi Ma and, without a glance at Gurpal, go back with my brother. That day, a joyous breeze flirting exuberantly with the peepal leaves would sing bright songs of reunion and the whole village would rejoice.
"During the winter of that year, soldiers eventually came to Sangraon, to take me back. But as well as the beloved sister of Bhayya and Bhai, I am also Munnis mother. And then I thought: God knows who these people are who have come for me. Which country am I supposed to be repatriated to?"
The book has stories which deal with topics other than partition, issues that touch on problems faced by women wherever they may be, Pakistan or India. "A manly act" by Neelam Ahmed Bashir and translated from Urdu by Atiya Shah, could be a story about any village in India rather than Pakistan.
Shera, a young man, falls in love with Hameedan whom he saw at his friend Afzals house. Hameedan is Afzals young widowed sister-in-law and both families are against the marriage. On his friend Achoo Pehlwans advice, Shera abducts Hameedan and marries her. "Time passed and with the passing of time Hameedans love for Shera grew greater day by day. Sheras passion however grew still like calm waters". Till he met Taji, and "lightening flashed and the warmth of a new, youthful, virgins torch burnt Shera down in a minute".
Shera meets Achoo Pehlwan again who gives him the way out of his marriage with Hameedan. "Shera got up and patted the oil-stove from all sides. He checked the oil in the tank. It was filled to the brim. Then he pulled up the brand-new cotton wicks so that they were half in the oil and half out. After fully satisfying himself that the stage was all set for the fireworks, he got up stretching himself. Ill go and get changed. In the meantime, all you do is strike a match and ignite it here, like this. He gave the instructions and got up. Hameedan picked up the matchbox."
Each story that has been collected in this book is well crafted and equally well narrated, the only drawback is the emotions these stories invoke in the reader. Sad, depressing, truthful they are all this and more but then maybe they are justified, as life is all this and more.
As the young girl says in "Banishment":"My Bhayya, who walked carefully and talked gracefully and wrote with such a beautiful hand, neat and straight. He neither spoiled the pages of his notebooks nor stained his hands with ink. I could never be as neat as him. Whenever I felt depressed, he used to encourage me, Dont worry, Bibi. When you grow up, you too will write neatly like me.
"God knows what Bhayya, who loved to write neatly without blots, would say if he could see me now. My Book of Destiny is soiled and there is black ink all over its pages. There is not one straight line on any page. I could never learn to write neatly".