Grim tale of human suffering
Reviewed by Harbans Singh

This is not that Dawn: Jhootha Sach
By Yashpal.
Penguin Books.
Pages 1119. Rs 599.

ALMOST 50 years ago, when Yashpal’s Jhootha Sach was serialised by the then most popular Hindi magazine Dharmyug, it made the readers anxiously wait for the next issue. Much of the Hindi reading populace of the country had for the first time read an authentic and humane narration of life in Lahore and the trauma of the exodus that had struck Punjab. The author, till then better known as a revolutionary and a writer, instantly carved a niche for himself among literary giants.

Today, for those of us who are aware of the trauma that the partition of the country inflicted upon them or their parents, Yashpal’s Jhootha Sach, christened as This is not that Dawn in its English avatar, is not just a novel dealing with the cataclysmic event. Many authors, including Saadat Hasan Manto, Bhisham Sahani from Punjab and Rahi Massom Raza and Gulsher Khan Shani from the Hindi heartland, have written about the trauma that was Partition, but none touched the epic reach and expanse of Yashpal’s two volumes of Jootha Sach.

It is truly the history of the times. Historians interpret and explain events on the basis of the documented views of the leaders and rulers of the day, Jhootha Sach narrates the events of Partition through the lives of the people who suffered a thousand deaths before they were actually torn away from their motherland to become sharnarthis. The story of their transformation from sharnarthis to purusharthis in the second volume is equally riveting, more so because the author, like his characters, is hard-pressed to provide some moral moorings to an increasingly amoral society in the new nation.

Jhootha Sach is a huge canvas that needed not only large brushes with huge strokes but also the delicate handling of a watercolour artist. Thus, he deals with the politics of Partition wherein the dubious role of the much-lauded Khizir Hyat government and the British bureaucracy in Punjab is exposed as also deftly examining the socio-economic composition that gave birth to inequities and consequently the need felt by Muslims to have Pakistan. As Pakistan begins to emerge as a distinct reality, many of the Hindus remain baffled, clutching at straws of hope, arguing that since 80 per cent of the property of Lahore was held by Hindus and the vast majority of the industrial workers in Amritsar, Jalandar and Ludhiana were Muslims, the creation of Pakistan was an unrealistic goal.

Yashpal breathed life not only in the characters of Bhola Pandhe’s Gali but also brought alive a life, where the neighbours demonstrate their solidarity and concern in matters of both life and death. Thus, when Jaidev Puri returns home after being unjustly locked up in police custody, the neighbours express their relief by sending a bowl of the dish that they had cooked for themselves but which they knew Jaidev was fond of!

The first part of the novel, Homeland and Nation, narrates the lives, hopes and fears of the characters in the shadow of the powerful tempest that was about to strike and when it does overwhelm Lahore and the rest of the Punjab, it fathoms the pits of degeneration and depravity that mankind descends. Among the victims are the families of Masterji, Pandit Girdhari Lal, Ramjawaya and many more who rebuild their lives and in doing so bring about change in values not only in their own lives but notably in Delhi and other cities where the displaced population thronged.

Many readers might find, as many did when the novel was first published, that the second volume, The Future of the Nation, lacks the intensity of the first and that it unjustly treats the character of Jaidev Puri. A case can be built in favour of Puri, for in the build-up to the fall that he is made to undertake, Tara is as much flawed as he is. While he does not live up to his intellectual credentials in sorting Tara’s problem, she herself does not cover herself in glory by injuring herself to make her brother quiet. His need to match Kanak’s family in financial and social success is not reason enough to falter and treat Tara the way he is made to do by the author. These were issues that have been endlessly debated in the past and the debate can still continue in endless evenings.

What the reader cannot fail to notice, though, is the resolve and resilience of the female characters. Whether it is the journey of Tara from her humble livings in Lahore to the Secretariat of New Delhi, the struggle of Kanak to explore herself in the new world after Partition or the fate of illiterate Banti, whose search for her husband’s family meets a gory end, they all have steel in their character. In contrast, while some of the males fade away as footnotes, others falter and stumble to earn pity and contempt.

It goes without saying that reading 1,119 pages is no easy matter, but then it must be remembered that it is the definitive story of Partition. The result is worth the labour. Finally, a word about the title: many of us may not be very comfortable with it but it really does not matter for whatever its rechristened name, this epic work will always be known for what it is—Jhootha Sach.