By: Kousik Adhikari
In 1947, India got freedom from the British raj after some two hundred years of foreign yoke and consequently partition. Partition is such a major event that it can be described as the watershed in not only India’s history but in almost all the other fields including literature. The provinces which had to endure the direct trauma and tremor of partition contributed to this subgenre, it’s very natural. But the fact remains is that even the less affected and not affected provinces had shared vast amount of literature on the subject. Virtually all fiction from Northern and Eastern India whether in English, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, has produced in this line in different forms of literature and arts -poetry, song, cinema, paintings etc. Today the legacy of 1947 looms much larger than ever before on the subcontinent with its rising communal tension, mutual distrust. Partition has actually proved to be a trauma from which the subcontinent has never fully recovered. Though Alok Bhalla, in his ‘Introduction’ to a collection of partition stories in English translation, states that when it comes to partition, “there is not just a lack of great literature, there is, more seriously, a lack of great history.” This comment may be true in some extent. This is perhaps because Indian historiography has focused more on independence, the boon, the deliverance form the foreign rule than on its associated curse-partition. However, the lack of great literature can be debated and even the historians generally feel agreed to one point that literature represented the various aspects and experiences of partition much better. We can here safely quote Ayesha Jalal and Sugata Bose, who in their seminal book on South Asian History commented that, “The colossal human tragedy of the partition and its continuing aftermath has been better conveyed by the more sensitive creative writers and artists-for example in Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories and Ritwik Ghatak’s film-than by historians.”
We can also broadly classify the partition literature into basically two categories. The one which deals with the scenes of carnage, violence, tremor, the experiences that both communities experienced with a particular bias for one community and the other that tries to catch the fleeting moments of humanity, the humanity at large and what effects the partition has unto them. We can cite here the examples of Saadat Hasan Manto, of whom it is said in respect of his ‘Siyah Hashse’ (Black Fringe), where “what mattered was not what religion people had, what rituals they followed or which gods they worshipped, but where they stood as human being.”
From Khuswant Singh’s ‘Train to Pakistan’ (1956) to Amitabh Ghosh’s Sahitya Academy award winning ‘Glass Palace’(1989) partition has been a favorite and recurring theme in Indian English literature and also in the other bhasa literature in India. Though it is the fact that partition caused havoc directly in Bengal and Punjab most terribly but because of religion and other socio-political factors the whole of the nation was affected.
Popati Hiranandani (1924-2005) was one of the best known and leading Sindhi women writers of her generation, recipient of several prestigious awards including Sahitya Academy in 1982. Her works very poignantly portrays the trauma longings and desires, affected by partition. One of the most notable facts of her writings is that, it is altogether free from any particular bias to any community even when she has the firsthand experience of how to feel as a refugee. The case of Sindhi Hindus, in which community she belongs was certainly different from their counterparts in Bengal and Punjab. While the Bengali and Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs could regain or reestablish their culture, language and get almost same atmospheric perspectives in the other parts of their same province, the migration of Hindu Sindhis at the 1947 and its aftermath made them virtually people without state and language, people of nowhere. They have to accommodate themselves with different cultures, languages in India and even in other parts of the vast world, that is undoubtedly a set back to them. The economic benefits of Hindu Sindhis who had prospered through the education and land reforms of the British added also fuel in the cause of partition and separation in 1947. As a result the well established and prosperous Hindu Sindhis, who had owned almost ninety percent of administrative posts, more than twenty nine lakhs acres of land which was sixty percent of total land in Sindh and eighty percent o constructed property and housing in Sindh, the partition caused a very real and terrible havoc to them like a nemesis.
But Hiranandani’s autobiography ‘The Pages of My Life’, though contain several experiences of partition and its consequences, is totally free from any bias or communal hatred as such. Rather it is a moving account of a family being rootless, floated to Bombay. The agonies they had to suffer in the road, for she pointed at the danger of the journey through Pakistan, “All our furniture, household goods including our books, clothes, etc. were left behind in the house. We had to be very careful in not letting anyone know that we are leaving Pakistan because if Muslims found us, we would be robbed and finished.” In her short story “MyGranny’ which had obvious autobiographical elements, is a moving tale of the teenage author who had to migrate and her grandmother’s desperate search to catch hold of the native land’s dust which is amiss from her hand. She said, “My child! Are you really leaving your own land? And further says, “I am looking for the dust of my native land. You must never lose it.” The narrator concludes, “I have not forgotten her words…But now, in the evening of my life, I can understand her pain because I too, feel the loss of my birthplace and my native land, which was my own, my very own land.” In the story ‘Longing Hearts’, Seth Gunomal was a refugee from Sindh, become elated to see Taj, the estranged friend of his native village though of Muslim community. Taj has brought him the rain soaked mud of the native land and he said, “I have brought this for you. It will bring the nostalgic memories of your motherland back to you. Do you remember how much you loved the rain-soaked fragrance of wet earth?” we also come to know Guno, though well established now had been restless and moving from one place to another without being able to settle down and Tajoo said “..it seems my friend’s love for Sindh has become an obsession with him…He is seeking the face of his beloved Sindh in every piece of the broken mirror, but is unable to see the full picture.”
Hiranandani’s writings thus carries to us the tales of the broken mirror but perhaps the most notable feature of her writing is that she has not refused to hear the nightingale and seen the broken pieces of the mirror with an open eye, not only the scars that are left over it.
Reference: Hiranandani, Popati. The Pages Of My Life, Autobiography and Selected Stories Translated. Jyoti Panjwani, New Delhi: Oxford, 2010.
Categories: Literary criticism