Partition voices

Manto clearly tells us that the biggest crimes are committed by those who society considers to be sane and not by the insane it locks up as dangerous

2018-08-15T18:57:00+05:00 Aamir Butt

Around this time 71 years ago the clocks in New Delhi were announcing that it is now 12 o'clock of the night between 14th and 15th of August. And this meant that the 90-year-old British raj over India has ended and the two independent states called Pakistan and Hindustan are born.

Leading up to the day of Independence, India had experienced increasing communal violence between Muslims and Hindus/Sikhs. And as pompous celebrations continued in New Delhi as well as the capital of the other dominion Karachi the violence escalated. Yet this was nothing as compared to what was coming for the exact geographic demarcation between these new countries had not been announced yet, it was not till 17th of August when the Radcliffe award was made public did people found out exactly where they stand and as if on cue all over Punjab now divided into two, depending on which side of the border they were, those of one religion fell upon those of the other who were now on the wrong side of the border with such barbarity that it is hard to find comparisons from the long history of human cruelty to each other. Man or woman, child or old, no one was spared. To this day no one knows exactly how many perished and how many women who were specifically targeted were abducted.

The scale and depravity of the violence was such that for many years afterwards the officials on both sides of the border acted as if it had not happened. 

However, the poets and writers who witnessed the events picked up their pens and with trembling hands wrote poems and stories which became an everlasting record of human shame.

Sahir Ludihanvi was in Bombay at that time. In fact the majority of the great names in Indian literature had gathered in Bombay and were members of the Progressive Writers Movement meeting regularly at the house of Sajad Zaheer. Leading up to independence/partition the escalating violence was a hot topic they all were worried about. The movement did its best to promote harmony between the two communities including a major peace rally which drove through all areas of Bombay.

Things, however, kept getting worse and after one gathering at Sajad Zaheer's house Sahir was seen to be sleepless with bloodshot eyes muttering, "Meray Punjab mein aag lag gaye tu asani say nehien bujhey gey, bohat barbadi ho ge."

And Sahir witnessed the barbadi as he traveled from Bombay to Ludihana to fetch his mother only to find out that she had already left for Lahore. During this time while in Delhi after witnessing the carnage he read his poem Aaj on All India Radio:

Saathiyo! maine barson tumhaare liye

chaand, taaron, bahaaron ke sapne bune

husn aur ishq ke geet gaataa rahaa

aarzoo_on ke aivaan sajaataa rahaa

main tumhaaraa mughannii, tumhaare liye

jab bhi aayaa naye geet laataa rahaa

aaj lekin mire daaman-e-chaak mein

gard-e-raah-e-safar ke sivaa kuchh nahiin

mere barbat ke seene mein naghmon ka dam ghut gayaa hai

taanen cheekhon ke anbaar mein dab gayii hain

aur geeton ke sur hichkiyaan ban gaye hain

main tumhaaraa mughannii huun, naghmaa nahiin houn

aur naghme kii takhleeq kaa saazo-saamaan

saathiyo! aaj tumne bhasm kar diyaa hai

aur main — apnaa Tootaa huaa saaz thaame

sard laashon ke anbaar ko tak rahaa houn

mere chaaron taraf maut ki vahshatein naachtii hain

aur insaan kii haivaaniyat jaag uthii hai

barbriyat ke KhunKh(w)aar afreet

apne naapaak jabRon ko khole

Khoon pee pee ke Ghurra rahe hain

bachche maaon ki goton mein sahme hue hain

ismatein sar-barhanaa pareshaan hain

har taraf shor-e-aaho-bukaa hai

aur main is tabaahii ke tuufaan mein

aag aur Khoon ke haijaan mein

sarnigoun aur shikastaa makaanon ke malbe se pur raaston par

apne naghmon ki jholi pasaare

dar-ba-dar phir rahaa houn -

mujhko amn aur tahzeeb kii bheek do

mere geeton ki lay, mere sur, meri nai

mere majrooh hoton ko phir saunp do

saathiyo! main barson tumhaare liye

inqilaab aur bghaawat ke naghme alaape

ajnabii raaj ke zulm kii chaanv mein

sarfaroshii ke Khwaabeeda jazbe ubhaare

is subah kii raah dekhi

jismein is mulk ki ruuh aazaad ho

aaj zanjeer-e-mahkoomiyat kat chuki hai

aur is mulk ke bahro-bar, baamo-dar

ajnabi qaum ke zulmat-afshaan farere kii manhoos chaanv se aazaad hain

khet sona ugalne ko bechain hain

vaadiyaan lahlahaane ko betaab hain

kohsaaron ke seene mein haijaan hain

saNg aur khisht bekhwaab-o-bedaar hain

inkii aankhon mein ta'ameer ke khwaab hain

inke Khwaabon ko takmeel ka roop do

mulk kii vaadiyaan, ghaatiyaan, khetiyaan, auratein, bachchiyaan -

haath phailaaye khairaat ki muntazir hain

iinko amn aur tahzeeb kii bheek do

maaon ko unke honton ki shaadaabiyaan

nanhe bachchon ko unko khushi bakhsh do

mere sur baKhsh do, meri nai bakhsh do

aaj saari fazaa bhikaari hai

aur main is bhikaari fazaa mein

apne naghmon ki jholi pasaare

dar-ba-dar phir rahaa houn

mujhko phir mera khoyaa huaa saaz do

main tumhaaraa mughannii tumhaare liye

jab bhi aaya, naye geet laataa rahoungaa

Sahir's close friend Amrita Preetam had left her beloved Lahore a few months earlier during the March/April riots. She had been living in a refugee camp near Delhi and as the violence escalated and the camp filled with traumatized men, women and children she wrote her heartbreaking plea to Waris Shah:

Aj akhan Waris Shah nu ki tun kabran vichchon bol,

Te aj kitab-e-ishq da koi agla varka phol.

Ik roi si dhee Punjab di, tun likh likh maare vain,

Aj lakhan dheean rondian tainu Waris Shah nu kahen.

Uth dardmandaan dia dardiaa, uth takk apnaa Punjab,

Aj bele lashan bichhian te lahu di bhari Chenab

Kise ne panjan panian vichch ditti zahar rala

Te unhan panian dharat nun ditta pani la

Is zarkhez zameen de lun lun futtia zaher

Gith gith charhiaan lalian fut fut charhia kaher

Veh vallisi wha pher, van van vaggi ja,

Ohne har ik vans di vanjhali ditti naag banaa

Pehla dang madarian, mantar gaye gawach,

Dooje dang di lag gayi, jane khane nu lag

Lagan kile lok munh bus phir dang hi dang,

Palo pali Punjab de neele pae gaye ang

Galeyon tutte geet phir, takaleon tutti tand,

Trinjanon tuttian sahelian, charakhre ghukar band

Sane sej de berian, luddan dittian rohr,

Sane dalian pingh aj, piplan ditti tor

Jitthe vajdi si kook pyaar di, ve oh vanjhali gayi gawach

Ranjhe de sab vir aj, bhul gaye usdi jach

Dharti te lahu vasiya, kabraan paian choan,

Preet dian shahzadian, aj vichch mazaran roan

Aj sabbhe qaido ban gaye, husn ishq de chor

Aj kitthon liaiye labh ke Waris Shah ik hor

Aj akhan Waris Shah nu ki tun kabran vichchon bol,

Te aj kitab-e-ishq da koi agla varka phol.

Perhaps, the full extent of the inhumanity prevalent in those days was captured by the story writer Sadat Hassan Manto who migrated to Lahore in 1948. Manto spent several months in a state of agitated confusion.

There were so many questions that haunted him and for which he could not find any answers, questions like, what is the difference between India and Pakistan? Now that they are free, are they really free? Who will own the literature written in undivided India? Will this be divided as well? And more worrying, 'What made people who lived next to each other so blood thirsty and devoid of all humanity?''

Above all, Manto felt deeply about women who were victims of the violence, women who were now being recovered from their captors, as he wrote, ''When I think of the recovered women, I think only of their bloated bellies-what will happen to those bellies? Would the children of their misery belong to India or Pakistan?'' After a few weeks he was able to write light-hearted sarcastic pieces for a newspaper but was still not able to bring himself to write short stories.

Then, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi launched a journal called Naqoosh and leaned hard on Manto to write for it. So Manto wrote a story, this was called, Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat) which is a harrowing tale about a powerfully built Sikh Ishwar Singh, hypersexed and in a relationship with Kalwant Kaur he fully participates in the partition violence. One day he kills several members of a Muslim family and abducts a teenage girl carrying her away on his shoulder. He takes her towards the canal and puts her down to rape her but realizes that she has died of fright. Leaving her body there he returns to his normal life but is unable to make love to Kulwant Kaur as he just can't get over the Thanda Gosht of the dead girl. Kulwant suspects he has another woman and is about to leave him when he breaks down in tears and tells her what he has done and then dies.

Qasmi read the story and liked it but said he cannot publish it as it was too hot for Naqoosh. So Manto asked him to come next day, when he did Manto was just finishing the story called, 'Khol Do' (Open It) which is about a father Sirajudin who is searching for his abducted daughter Sakina in the refugee camps of Lahore. Eight young Muslim volunteers tell him they will help and they find the brutalized girl but instead of returning her to Sirajudin they gang rape her and leave her laying unconscious near the railway line. She is taken to the hospital where Sirajudin somehow finds her, As he looks on a doctor while checking her pulse asks him to open the window in the room by gesturing towards it and saying, 'Khol do' (Open it). The semi-concious Sakina mechanically opens the strings of her trousers and pushes it down her thighs. Seeing this Sirajudin's face lights up and he cries, 'Thank God my daughter is alive'

Manto watched silently as Qasimi, physically shaking all over finished reading the story and said quietly, 'I will take it' later on he confessed that he felt like crying and only controlled himself because Manto was sitting next to him. The story was published and Naqoosh was banned for six months. The story tears apart the myth that the violence had clear communal boundaries and shows that at times it was just the opportunity that brought out the dark desires within humans. Also we are made to ask ourselves the question what was worse, what was done to Sakina by Hindu/Sikh men or what was done to her by Muslim men she trusted to be her protectors?

And later in his story Toba Tek Singh Manto clearly tells us that the biggest crimes are committed by those who society considers to be sane and not by the insane it locks up as dangerous.

And now that we have had independence and partition for 71 years we still don't know if it was worth it. Of course there are those who do know, some think it was a great mistake and other think it was the right thing to do but these are just opinions as no one can know for sure.

The tragedy is that the hatred, mistrust and animosity between the two communities who suffered so much during those days continues to fester even today. It is not inconceivable that given the chance they will repeat what they did for it is not possible to have peace on earth till the day its inhabitants stop loving land and start loving the creatures who live on the land, till the day they realize that we only have one world and we're fools to make war on our brothers in arms, till the day parents teach their children since birth that it is much more important to be a good human than to be a good Muslim, Hindu etc.

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