Voices of anguish

Crossing Over: Partition Literature from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
Eds Frank Stewart and Sukrita Paul Kumar.
Pages 254. Rs 295.

ON 26/11, India stood stupefied as it was taken hostage by a group of terrorists who believed they were waging a war against ‘infidels’. Irrespective of their belief, it was time to retrospect again the cause of mindless violence for hasn’t the Indian subcontinent seen enough of this violence during Partition? This book is a collection of essays and stories by prominent authors which brings forth the despair of ordinary people who suffered during Partition.

The publication has been brought out by the University of Hawaii on the occasion of the anniversary of the countries of the sub-continent. Prominent contributors include Gulzar, Bhisham Sahni, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Urvashi Butalia, Mohan Rakesh and Kamleshwar. Though many of the stories/essays have been translated from Urdu, Bengali and Hindi, they have retained the pain of the protagonists.

Some of the stories included in the collection are well known, yet are indispensable when one wants to put across the message of helplessness and suffering — Toba Tek Singh, Raavi Paar and Lajwanti fall in this category. Insanity guided people during the dark hours of Partition. What justification can one give to all the heartless loot and plunder in which people lost their homes, their children and their faith in each other?

The Train has Reached Amritsar captures the despair of people fleeing from their homes and also the mutual distrust that rose in people’s hearts. Pali is the story of a small Hindu boy who gets separated from his parents and then is adopted by a childless Muslim couple. After two years, the Hindu parents trace the boy in Pakistan. They give ample proofs and are united with their lost son. In this tug of war between two sets of parents that gradually extends to two communities, the small boy, Pali, undergoes mental torture. His name, identity, religion and parents are changed time and again. The strange part is that the parents are ready to share moments of the boy’s life but the so-called leaders of the communities are the deciding factors in the young boy’s life.

The Owner of Rubble depicts how people were driven to commit acts in those frenzied moments and maybe, repent later. This story shows that it was not always religion that made people kill each other, at times there were vested interests too. Rakkha Pahalwan killed his bosom friend Chiragdin because the former wanted his newly constructed house. Chiragdin, a Muslim, had refused to migrate to Pakistan despite his father’s pleadings saying, "as long as Rakkha was around, nobody would dare to hurt him". It is stories like these that make you feel when riots and violence happen, many a time the two communities do not harbour hatred, rather it is a few people in each community who have their personal axe to grind.

The edited work has also included stories from Bangladesh which faced the brunt of Partition not once in 1947, but again in 1971. These stories again bring forth the anguish of the ordinary people: women raped, killed or forced to convert their religion.

The surprising fact is that despite new literature being published, we are not ready to learn from our mistakes. Anger is still simmering not only among the countries of the subcontinent but also among communities within the countries.

The stories are interspersed with photographs from the family album of Teresa Vas Mannson. Teresa’s family hailed from Goa and resettled in Karachi in the 1870s. Many Goans made Karachi their home because they found work under the British. Her family escaped the violence that accompanied Partition. The photographs do not fit into the scheme of things for they were not forced to migrate. They depict the happy moments of the family. So, when the reader is disturbed while reading the stories, the photographs either fail to catch attention or are minor irritants.

The literature collected makes for an interesting read. Each story serves to be an eye-opener to put aside hatred and venom. The translation of stories should encourage more contribution from other languages.