The Partition of subcontinental India, a catastrophic, communal holocaust, accompanied her freedom in a package deal and activated what became the largest migration process accompanied by a most brutal carnage. Flanking India on her Eastern and Western borders Pakistan was erected on the debris of deserted homes and longstanding institutions. This fact along with many more, including cultural and linguistic hostility within her two unequal halves, portended continued conflict in the region. The Partition has spawned a stupendous body of literature that sought to capture the breakdown of the ‘civilizational rhythm’, the anarchy and the madness that was destructive beyond measure. Translated into various regional languages and in English, Partition Literature embodies an entire genre attracting academic interest. On either side of the new borders, writers responded by portraying human savagery—fleshly trauma and massacres, in all the severity of their happening. Over generations, as physical wounds healed, legacies of horror and psychological trauma continued to haunt people. So much so that over seventy years on, Partition continues to either lurk as the backdrop or becomes foregrounded in both fictional and non-fictional narratives. Second generation writers recall and revisit the Partition with the advantage of hindsight, accepting legacies of violence but motivated to rationalize, bury animosities and take cognizance of commonalities instead.
The two texts reviewed here are located in the Punjab and cover riots, migrations and massacres that accompanied its division. Both Rashid and Kala are off-springs of Partition displacement. The texts are centred on two tropes—the Partition and the insanity or ‘(m)adness’ that accompanied it. The idea of madness however, has been explored differently. In Rashid, madness refers mostly to the mayhem unleashed by the rioters. The acts of brutalization and killing mostly target the body, and have been executed around the period of border-crossings. Psychological trauma becomes evident in Rashid’s references to the stoic silence of members of his own family with regard to their losses, as well as by means of retrospective reconsiderations on the part of the perpetrators of the crimes. In Kala, madness refers to the mayhem as well as the psychological and emotional deranging and disorders resultant of the all too human incapacity to cope with the cataclysmic transformation precipitated by the Partition. Here, the collapse of humanistic sensibility and psychological-emotional violence are the cause of madness, difficult or impossible to heal even over extended periods of time.
Salman Rashid’s book is about his quest for the lost legacy of his forefathers, signified tangibly by the ancestral homes of his parents in the hometown of Jalandhar and intangibly by the many contingent issues he dwells upon in detail or in passing, in the course of the narrative. Despite being born in Lahore, more than four years after the Partition, Rashid perceives India as the country of his belonging, repeatedly referring to her as ‘homeland’. The idea of travel to the home country is perceived as a pilgrimage and Rashid even carries home a handful of dust as relic to be strewn on the graves of his elders and reserved carefully to serve as the first fistful for his own burial. The journey(s) undertaken by him are not merely across the borders, facilitated or frustrated by visa issues, but inward, centring the spirit of compassion and forgiveness, despite the brutal killings of members of his immediate family and those of their staff. In the process, Rashid interpolates that the times were such that generally, people were overcome with partition madness.Even most composed and revered elders like his grandfather fell prey to communal bias. For this, and for the gold and cash they carried with them when they went into hiding, the family paid with their lives. Rashid pointedly juxtaposes acts of genocide on both sides of the newly mapped geo-political borders, thereby balancing the ruthlessness of members of conflicting religious communities. Benevolently, he forgives the killer of his family and befriends his son. Both regret the insanity that had become the new order of the day.
Alongside the narrative of quest unfolds Rashid’s self-critique of corruption at various levels in Pakistan. He perceives the loot, plunder, reclaiming of tangible properties and degeneration of intangible heritage in Pakistan, during and after the Partition, as the root cause behind the depravity, profligacy and dissoluteness that became part and parcel of the character of a nation in the making. He attributes the dire state of affairs in modern day Pakistan as an internalization of such a legacy. Rashid’s narrative is interspersed with portrayals of the degeneracy of political and civic state of affairs, particularly under the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq, whom Rashid perceives (without naming him) as the chief architect of Pakistan’s economic stagnation, and for the demolition of her disposition for tolerance.
Anirudh Kala’s family belonged to Sheikhupura, Pakistan. His parents migrated in 1947, while his mother was expecting him. As a psychiatrist, Kala is involved in cross border initiatives, building relations between mental health professionals of Indian and Pakistani Punjab. The Unsafe Asylum is a collection of stories based on factual accounts grounded in personal/professional experiences.Kala’s presence is manifest in the text by means of Prakash Kohli, central protagonist of several narratives, and the writer of The Diary of a Mental Hospital Intern.
Some of Kala’s stories such as ‘No Forgiveness Necessary’ and Belly Button’ are conceived to span over sixty or seventy years and exhibit the idea that time is a healer or that immigrants across the new borders remain allied to the country of origin in an umbilical cord like connection—that separateness is the thrust of political manoeuvring. The politics of repatriation, involving the honour of young governments and entailing the objectification of women and psychologically ailing people as movable, national properties lacking individuality, is a major feature running through some of Kala’s stories. However, they also give a sense of déjà vu, for Rajinder Singh Bedi’s ‘Lajwanti’, Sa’adat Hasan Manto’s ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and Qurratulain Hyder ‘Sita Haran’ have taken up these themes in all the poignancy of their happening, around the time of their happening. So succinct and pointed are the Urdu stories, (widely available in translation) that Kala’s ‘Partitioning Madness’ centring Rulda and Fattuand ‘Sita’s Bus’ centring Harpreet aka Firdaus Cheema, elicit recall rather than empathy. Kala’s repeated deliberations and conjectures upon the dubiousness surrounding the death or disappearance of a large number of asylum inmates without a trace calls for exploration or clarification. But perhaps the idea that no one was punished for crimes/ murders committed during the Partition holds true for the fate of asylum inmates as well.
In narratives like ‘Folie à Deux’ centring two generations of familial psychological disorder and ‘Love during Armistice’ about a teenaged boy’s imagined love affair with the young Benazir Bhutto, it becomes apparent that Partition and subsequent political events caused permanent damage by means of serious and untreatable psychological disorders for generations to come. ’A Spy Named Gopal Punjabi’ is a gripping account of an Indian spying for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency because he is subsumed by the will to return to the land where he had once been happy.
Kala’s stories centre post Partition politics and visa issues between India and Pakistan—the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence and the Shimla Agreement; the Khalistan liberation movement and subsequent events, particularly the riot following Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. This is significant because Kala is in all likelihood stating that the Partition forged a legacy of communal discord that continues to divide and subdivide the subcontinent on the basis of regional-linguistic (Urdu-Bengali) or communal (Hindu-Sikh) politics. Perhaps Rulda’s desperate question in the final story, ‘Rulda’s Discharge’, ‘Is there a mental hospital in this city?’ sums up the madness of the Delhi riots and reasserts the idea expressed in the first story ‘No Forgiveness Necessary’ set mostly in the Mental Hospital, Lahore,1947, that mental asylums are the only safe spaces—that ‘outsiders (have) gone mad’.
Significantly, in both Rashid and Kala, there is both looking back and looking forward, and overt is the accepted wisdom of a shared cultural heritage and thoughts of healing.
Fatima Rizvi is Associate Professor, Department of English, Lucknow University.