When the first three volumes of the Stories about the Partition of India were published more than a decade ago, they were widely acknowledged as the most comprehensive collection of texts in English translations from the three countries of the subcontinent. Ever since then, the anthology has remained an invaluable resource for historical and literary studies trying to understand the politics of religious identities, colonial predatoriness, linguistic chauvinism, or the partitions of large states to resolve ethnic conflicts anywhere. The new edition of the collection enlarges the range of the anthology by adding a fourth volume which includes a large number of stories from Bengali and Sindhi that speak eloquently about the continuing sorrows of separatist and fundamentalist world-views which destroy old neighbourhoods, encourage despair and add to human misery. The additional volume should enable scholars to add fresh insights into the history of the partition as it affected two regions which have yet not become the subject of serious literary and archival research. The anthology is further enriched by including stories by many of the finest writers in Urdu, Punjabi or Hindi which have become available only recently in English translations. This volume has also made a special effort to include more stories by major women writers from different languages like Qurratulain Hyder, Khadija Mastur, Popati Hiranandani, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Nisha Da Cunha, Rajee Seth, Farkhanda Lodhi and Syeda Farida Rahman.
In a review of the first edition of this collection, the New York Times said that Alok Bhalla’s anthology had done a “fine ... job of evoking the terror, the bewilderment and the remorse that still shadow so many lives on the subcontinent.”
Alok Bhalla obtained his Master’s from Delhi University and Ph.D from Kent State University, USA. He was a Lady Davis Visiting Professor, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Fellow at the Rockefeller Centre, Bellagio, Italy and Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Among his recent publications are Partition Dialogues: Memories of a Lost Home and The Place of Translation in a Literary Habitat, Life and Times of Saadat Hasan Manto (edited). He is the author of The Cartographers of Hell:
Essays on the Gothic Novel and the Social History of England and The Politics of Atrocity and Lust: The Vampire Tale and a Nightmare History of England in the 19th Century. He has translated Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug into English verse, as well as Nirmal Verma’s Raat Ka Reporter (Dark Dispatches) and Intizar Husain’s Chronicle of the Peacocks, Ram Kumar’s The Sea and Other Stories and the poems of Udayan Vajpai, Kedarnath Singh, Kunwar Narain, etc.
The Partition of the Indian subcontinent was the single most traumatic experience in our recent history. The violence it unleashed was unprecedented, unexpected and barbaric. Provoked by the hooligan actions of a few, the vengeance that ordinary Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs wrecked on each other coarsened our social sense, distorted our political judgements and deranged our understanding of moral rightness. The memory of those days is branded so deeply in our souls that it still provokes us into irrational behaviour and careless thought.
The real sorrow of the Partition was that it brought to an abrupt end a long and communally shared history. The relations between the Hindus and the Muslims were not, of course, always free from suspicion, distrust or the angry rejection by one group of the habits and practices of the other. Occasionally the conflicts were even harsher and fell below the realms of mere nastiness and stupid abuse into murder and arson. But such moments of active malevolence and communal frenzy were rare and transient. The experience of a life lived together was sufficiently secure and rooted to enable the communities to have evolved mechanisms for containing tensions and even outrage. So that even if there were disruptions, the rich heterogeneity of the life of the two communities was never seriously threatened - the Hindus never ceased from paying homage at dargahs, the Muslims continued to participate in Hindu festivals, traders of both the communities carried on with their usual exchange of goods and services in the bazaars, learned men sought each other out to gather information and knowledge about the best of both the traditions, and princes never stopped to consider the religion of the mercenaries they recruited into their armies.
Had there been a history of irreconcilable hatred or non- negotiable aversion between the Hindus and the Muslims, it would have been reflected in the cultural and social practices of the two groups. The pain of living together would have been extensively recorded in popular kissas and tamashas or chronicles and songs. While popular lore did talk about Muslim conquests and destruction or about Hindu intolerance and retaliation, there are hardly any accounts of conflagrations between the two communities in their ordinary lives which were so serious as to have threatened the very structure of a life of interdependencies in the various regions of the subcontinent. In order to make a contrary case, one could, of course, point to the later writings of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and the romances of Bankimchander Chatterjee as articulations of the feeling that the identity and interests of the Hindus and the Muslims were so utterly different as to make it impossible for them to coexist with each other. Both of them, however, were rather late in historical time and were themselves so fraught with ambiguities that their writings can hardly be used to construct a theory of communal hatred. Besides, they were both seriously challenged from within their own communities. Thus, Tagore thought that Bankimchander’s claims of imaginary glory or complaints of imaginary humiliations were useful for spinning fine fables, but were not the best guides for our understanding of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Ghalib, on the other hand, refused to write an introduction to Sir Syed’s edition of Ain-i-Akbari because he neither thought that the “worship of the past” was a “useful past-time” nor did he want to encourage a “wise man” in the “constitution of hypocrisy.” Sir Syed was also declared a heretic by the more orthodox of the Muslims because they saw the Aligarh School as a threat to traditional Islamic feelings and thought. Indeed, one can assert with confidence that the dominant concerns of the Hindu and the Muslim intellectuals throughout the 19th century and till about 1935, were more with creating free spaces for enlightened thought than with confining people within their narrow religious identities. Organizations which nurtured violent hatred towards each other and incited communal passions did exist, but at the very margins of the functioning social and cultural order. People who commanded respect were the ones who acknowledged the dependence of the Hindus and the Muslims on each other and encouraged acts of ‘well-doing.’ How else would one explain the fact that Raja Rammohan Roy, whom many thought was more inclined towards Islam, edited the first Persian newspaper in 1822 (Miraatul Akhbar - ‘Mirror of News’) and Munshi Sade Sukh the first Urdu newspaper in 1823 (Jaame Jahan Numa - ‘Crystal Cup Showing the World’); or that Hindu and Muslim soldiers fought the British together in 1857; or that Zakaullah taught with Hindu colleagues in Delhi College; or that Premchand wrote movingly about the duty of Hindu and Muslim friends towards each other and the country in Karambhumi (1932); or that Iqbal opened his Bal-i-Jibril (1935) with a couplet from Bhartrihari; or that there was an essential sympathy of interests between Tagore, Nazrul Islam and Hasrat Mohani; or ... One could add endlessly to the catalogue of people who thought that the notion of a unified state, with its multiplicity of religious, social or moral ideals, had legitimacy, not only because it made good sense, but also because it was derived from a long practice of living together. It is perhaps the fact that the daily life of the Hindus and the Muslims, at the ordinary and the local levels, even as late as 1946, was so richly interwoven as to have formed a rich archive of customs and practices, that explains why there is a single, common note which informs nearly all the stories written about the Partition and the horror it unleashed - a note of utter bewilderment. It is as if the separation and the carnage were so completely without any historical or social reason that most of the writers could only watch as the place they had called ‘home’ or ‘basti’ was reduced to rubble, and the memories of ‘their collective rites and traditions, stories and songs, names of birds and trees were permanently tinged with the acrid smell of ash, smoke and blood.
My concern with the Partition is an old one and is connected both with the recollections of my family and my first confrontation with horror. As with almost everyone of my generation from the northern or the eastern parts of India, my childhood consciousness was scarred by the cruelties I saw during the riots of 1947-48 and the lamentations I heard. For me they were forewarnings about the world beyond the secure walls of my home as a place where grim death lay in wait for those who were unlucky. I have put together this anthology of stories about the Partition not in order to exorcise the past, but in the hope of initiating an ethical inquiry into the history of my age and place.
My earliest memory is of a hot summer day in Delhi in 1948. It was like any of the other and usual summer days in the north. The sun was harsh and indifferent; the dust was full of the dry buzz of flies and the smell of the tar and flint of the streets. The courtyard of our small house was surrounded by a high wall which was washed with white lime so that it could absorb the glare of the sun and resist the hot winds. The entrance to our house was through a small green door with a black chain-lock. A few discoloured steps led down from the door to the level of the road and its burden of leaves outside. The details are important; they are necessary both as evidence that the events I recall really happened and as boundaries against the phantasmogoric.
I remember that as I unlocked the door to our house, I saw, stretched out on the steps below, the body of a man. He was lying face down. His bag had fallen near his feet; it was open and a few common household things had scattered out of it. The man’s limbs were in disarray, his clothes were soaked in blood and the sun had begun to darken his skin. There was no one in the street, not even the usual garbage dog. My father had heard the sound of the chain on the door and had hurried out. Later he told me that the man, marked with so many wounds, had earlier in the day sought shelter in our house. He was a Muslim trader who had been chased into our locality by violent men seeking revenge for blood spilled in Pakistan. We were Hindus and he had stayed with us in security for a few hours. Near noontime my father had gone out to see if the streets were safe. The man was obviously anxious to get back to his family. My father had looked about the street carefully and had thought that the man could negotiate his way back to his own neighbourhood without fear. Too late had my father realized that he had failed to notice one of the shadowy corners of the wall beyond the grounds of old St. Stephen’s College in Kashmiri Gate. The man had turned back and had tried to reach our house once more.
My father had forgotten his name. There were too many of those who had been killed.
I have never since forgiven that day. It taught me that a group of people - any people - in their religious passion or tribal pride can always go mad; and that after a time they can relapse into madness again. I became conscious of the fact that the world which most of us had chosen to create, and in which I would have to grow up, was neither safe nor brave. The Partition had broken the covenant that men must make with men, castes with castes, religions with other tolerant religions, without which our survival is always precarious and our enslavement by some barbarian is certain. All that men of good sense could do in the fragments of nations which had come into being was to endure, console and be generous.
Over the years, I came to realize that my recollections of those days were not private obsessions with the horrific. Similar incidents were known to others and had become a part of their experiential world. My own memories began to acquire a density and a detail from the narratives of a variety of different people. My aunts told me of properties burnt, my grandfather about friends lost; one spoke to me about a massacre witnessed, another about the mutilations of women. There were a few, of course, who also talked with nostalgia and with tears in their eyes, about acts of kindness and decency, courage and selflessness - about acts which, being free always from prejudices of race and religion, suggested modes of behaviour which we had failed to transform into qualities of our ordinary culture during the time of the Partition. And I grew up trying to understand the problem of evil and to explore the possibilities of magnanimity in such a world as ours.
Now a generation later, whenever I think about the Partition, I am confronted by a series of doubts and questions. Unfortunately, however, even though the Partition was a decisive event (a kairos) in our social and political life, it has yet’ to become a central part of our nationalist discourse. There are hardly any chronicles of those days, written with any degree of objectivity and trustworthiness, which can serve as aids to reflection and offer a reliable set of explanations.
Acknowledgements are generally a scholarly pleasure - especially for a work which is so full of grief and grieving, memories and melancholia. They help one to make, for a brief period at least, a community of learning, thinking and debating with colleagues who have knowledge of a brutal period of our history which has left its scars on each of us. Acknowledgements also direct attention sufficiently away from the narcissism of work, religious selfhood, national arrogance and one’s refusal to believe that others have an equal right to occupy their small space of the earth for a few days. That is, perhaps, why the word “acknowledge” carries moral intimations of the word “gratitude”.
I am acutely aware of the fact that, like the first three volumes of this anthology of fictional texts about the Partition of India from different languages of the Indian subcontinent, the fourth volume too would have been quite impossible without the gracefulness of a number of scholars, writers and translators. My search for stories brought me into contact with some of the finest and most generous of writers and thinkers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Their willingness to help, without ever asking me to declare my own religious or national affiliations, affirmed once again my conviction expressed without ambiguity in my “Introduction” to the first three volumes, and repeated, after critical revaluation in my book, Partition Dialogues, that the Partition had no substantial cause, reason or religious purpose - at least not enough for anyone to have endured so much suffering. The Partition did not make us holier; it did not make it easier for us to find our god/a god/any god in temples, shrines or mosques. There is, I am still convinced, a gap between the infirmities of a politics based on religious identities and the daily lives of people. During the decade leading up to the Partition, religious politics was bloody in tooth and claw. There were, in some specially chosen areas, well coordinated riots organized to provoke stigmatization and abuse followed by rage and revenge. The attempt was, of course, to reveal that India’s image of itself as a syncretic civilization was a pernicious myth; that the myth was invoked only to create out of mutually antagonistic fragments of religious cultures a delusive sense of a tolerant and richly diverse habitat. Politically, the violent combination of street goons, semi-literate priests, and politicians unmoved by pain succeeded in dividing the subcontinent.
Yet, as Partition fiction records, with insistence and courage, that within the emotional and cultural map of the subcontinent the lives of the people were governed, as they historically had always been governed, by their abiding sense that they belonged to a civilizational history created out of such intricately mingled religious and ethnic pluralities that it was impossible for us to think of any particular selfhood or identity without simultaneously acknowledging others who are radically different but who live beside us. Partition fiction, of course, bears witness to the sorrows of the exiled and records with horrified disbelief the fate of those brutalized by the violence. But Partition fiction refuses to surrender, to any bullying ideology trying to debase a culture and its languages with foul invective, its belief that India was and continues to be an example of a civilizational ethic marked by a tolerant regard for “the other”.
The fourth volume of this anthology should reinforce my assertion, that there were, with very few exceptions, hardly any communally charged stories preaching hate and calling for the annihilation of other religious groups written in any of the languages of the subcontinent. It is heartening to note that even contemporary writers of imagination and moral courage dealing with religious terror - with a few hysterically charged voices, demanding more partitions, that sound like parables of justified murder - still have the historical confidence to assert that community making in the Indian subcontinent which excludes or degrades people of different religions or cultures was and is contrary to the ethos of its civilization; communal carnage still evokes honest protest and leaves people ashamed.
The first three volumes of my anthology appeared around the same time fifteen years ago as two other significant ones. The first was edited by Mushirul Hasan, and the second by Saros Cowasjee and Kartar Singh Duggal. The three collections became crucial parts of a written archive which could be used for research about the Partition of India. These anthologies were followed by translations of novels about the Partition from a range of other languages. Together, they persuaded some historians and political thinkers to reconfigure their constructs of modern Indian history and give to the communal and religious politics of the subcontinent a defining role in countless acts of virulence which disrupted the designs and visions we had as members of newly independent nation states. The anthologies perhaps also helped many, as victims or perpetrators of violence, to break their silence and speak either in tones suffused with pain or with feelings of remorse. Perhaps, they also helped those who continued to live with their traumas to hope that the karuna of time (time’s compassionate softening of sorrow) would persuade people to be a little less self-righteous, a little less willing to turn religious ideas and ethnic identities into instruments of torture and endless slaughter. Maybe, the earth should no longer be used as an altar of blood- sacrifices; maybe, the gods need to turn away from acrid smoke filled with ash and ritual pieties; maybe, the “city of the mind”, which is now a dark necropolis, needs a different moral ecology.
Soon after the appearance of these initial anthologies, Partition studies acquired an important place in our understanding of many contemporary conflicts based on religion and ethnicity. While it may be true that fiction, poetry or drama do not provide the sources for the hard facts of history for analysis, yet they do help to give to historical narratives their moral cadences, their emotional nuances or their subtler political inflections. And, wherever there are great historical wrongs, they become prophetic voices of caution, telling human beings that the erasure of one’s ethical imagination which reaches out to the other in empathy, always leads human societies to the brink of annihilation. Some day, I hope, we would also understand that books of poetic imagination are not books of law and must never be used to threaten and kill.
As in the past, it was difficult once again to establish a chronology of the stories included. In the absence of well-documented library resources, I had to rely upon finding stories by chance - of course, we all know that chance revelations happen to people who are looking for something specific. But such encounters do not guarantee historical accuracy particularly in a society where the attitude to an archive is causal. Every now and then a friend, who knew of my interest in the Partition, would pass me a story. Sometimes, I came across texts in journals or anthologies from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh I happen to be reading. Therefore, the stories in the fourth volume, as in its predecessors, are not arranged in a chronological order and no date of publication in the original is given. I did, however, want to end the volume with the most recent story about the Partition and its contemporary sorrows by Intizar Husain. It is a despairing story. It suggests that a new cycle of violence will begin unless the politics of exclusive identities gives way to a mingled universe where the voices of reason and goodwill can be heard, and there is a concern for other sentient and non-sentient things who share the earth with us.
This reprint of the first three volumes of my anthology, along with an additional fourth volume, offers me an occasion to acknowledge new debts and offer thanks to new writers, scholars and friends. The fourth volume, like the first three, would not have been possible without the unfailing help of Asif Farrukhi in Karachi. His own work as a short story writer, translator and editor has done great service to literature from Pakistan written in Urdu, Sindhi, Pashto and Punjabi. Like Asif, Niaz Zaman has done pioneering work on literature of the Partition from Bangladesh and responded readily when I sought her help. Work on this volume has added yet another tone of richness to my friendship with Sukrita Paul Kumar who introduced me to the writings of her father, Joginder Paul, and readily translated some of his stories for me. There are others, friends and scholars, who gave me a chance to play out my ideas about Partition fiction at various seminars and lectures: Gyan Pandey, Vasudha Dalmia, Frank Stewart, Charles Hale, Carol Khewhok, Mushirul Hasan, Mrinal Miri, Tarun Saint, Malashri Lal, Smita Jassal, Satinder Singh Noor, Hina Nandrajog, Madhuri Chawla, Eyal Ben-Ari, Efrat Ben-Ze’ev and Tamara Katriel.
It has been a pleasure to work with Siddharth Chowdhury, the editor at Manohar Publishers, who was keen to reprint the first three volumes and insistent that I put together a fourth volume. He convinced Ramesh Jain, the publisher of scholarly books and a man of unfailing courtesy that this anthology deserved to be expanded and brought back into print. Every effort has been made to obtain copyright clearance for the translations included in this anthology.
Finally, I must thank Vasundara for her faith in my ability to do this work, especially when I nearly always lapse into despondency.
I should like to begin with a strange and dangerous paradox that seems to lie at the very heart of Western modernity. On the one hand, its morally exhilarating, philosophic and social urge, since the Enlightenment at least, has been to define itself as secular, rational and cosmopolitan. Its liberal philosophers, whatever their subtler differences with each other, have declared boldly, and often, that what motivates the human Self to act in a community, what gives the Self ethical and aesthetic capacities for judgement, is that, while each Self is inalienably autonomous, it cannot survive unless it is in the presence of the Other, recognized by the Other, defined by the Other. Without the gaze of the Other in which the Self sees honour or contempt, beauty or desire, invitation to sociability or unsympathetic dismissal, it cannot acquire an identity. Indeed, the French philosopher, Tzvetan Todorov, asserts that because of the recognition and empathetic attention of the Other the Self acquires that “inner incarnation which we call conscience.”
On the other hand, much of modern politics in the West (and elsewhere of course) has been played out in contempt of the Other; in its assertions of unique national, racial, linguistic or religious identities, it has violently and arrogantly swept away every other mode of thinking, living and worshipping and so become an instrument of evil. Every community now has an imagined past in which divine grace and continuous humiliation by imaginary Others are so mingled as to demand vengeance for historical wrongs and re-commemoration of a lost sanctuary where they had once lived an exemplary life with their shadowy gods, heroes and ancestral spirits. That is why modern revenge histories demand a violent defense of an ethnic enclave, a religious sect, a racial borough and a linguistic region which is always accompanied not only by the spectacle of mindless slogans, intolerant sermons, political invective or crass greed, but also requires perpetual enforcement by degrading cultural production, frenzied religiosity, brutal censorship, armed thuggery, and finally genocide.
The struggle to form and secure, homogeneous and singular national, religious or ethnic entities has generally resulted in the creation of countless borders of sorrow within which people who do not belong to particular pathologies of fixed identities not only lose their families and their homes but also fail to discover who they are; they become strangers to themselves and revenants upon the earth. It is possible to argue that the violent formations of armed national conclaves in the last century are a fulfilment of the old and sad Hobbesian assumption that the life of human beings, short as it is, can only be conducted in a state of permanent, bloody and implacable conflict of every group against every other group.
Unfortunately, Thomas Hobbes (The Leviathan) continues to be the representative philosopher of an insularity which is hostile to everyone else. He seems to give credence to much of the hysterical style of passionate resentment in which we speak about our various identities these days - or, perhaps, have always spoken. Thus, the Austrian thinker, Giorgio Agamben, searching anew for the secret, hidden, “inner demon” of Europe which cannot imagine sovereignty without violence and godliness without the “bloody sacrifices and the holocausts that smell of burnt remains,” finds the first use of the word holocaust and the massacre of Jews in a medieval chronicle recording the installation of Richard I in 1189 as the King of England. According to a chronicler, Richard of Duizes, the inhabitants of London celebrated the joyous occasion with a fiery pogrom:
The very day of the coronation of the king, at about the hour in which the Son was burnt for the Father, they began in London to burn the Jews for their father the demon ...; and their celebration of this mystery lasted so long that the holocaust could not be completed before the next day. And the other cities and towns of the region imitated the faith of the inhabitants of London and, with the same devotion, sent their bloodsuckers to hell....
It seems that since medieval times national, racial and religious identities continue to be formed on the assumption that in a cruelly politicized and economically competitive world it is best to negate the moral worth of the Other; that a rich plurality of cultures, created out of a free conversation “face to face” with the Other conducted in open and agnostic spaces and without any fear of coercion, are not only impossible to attain but are also a threat to their material and regional survival. If, as the poet Octavio Paz says, irony is the breath of the fallen devil, then it is appropriate that the latest voices in this long history of a complete divorce of the moral from the political, the religious from the socially responsible, and the individual from the rest of mankind belong, at the one end, to the fine Polish journalist, Ryzard Kapuscinski, and at a diametrically opposite end, to Avigdor Lieberman, a minister in the present Israeli government and the founder of the right wing political party self-righteously named, Israel Beitenu - “Israel is our Home.” Trying to explain the renewal of the anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic Law and Order Party recently in Poland, Kapuscinski says:
You know, if we did not have the figure of The Jew, we would invent something else.... In the collective imagination of the Poles, The Other coalesced into the idea of The Jew. For a long time, the Communists had supplanted this idea of The Jew. Now that communism has ended, The Jew is back to being the symbol of the Other of collective hatred.
As if to darken this irony further and so add another circle to the deepening gloom of our modern hell, when the Jewish leader, Lieberman, was asked about the nature of yet another round of conflict with the Palestinians, he said:
What is, really, the reason for the longstanding conflict between Jews and Arabs, between Israel and the Palestinians? Every place around the world where you have two religions, two languages, you have friction, you have conflict. I don’t believe in coexistence. We can be neighbors, but cannot stay together.
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