In an invaluable addition to the genre of Partition literature, Alok Bhalla explores the concept of boundaries and homes through his interviews with six well-known novelists from India and Pakistan. In conversation with Intizar Husain, Krishna Sobti, Bhisham Sahni, Krishna Baldev Vaid, Kamleshwar, and Bapsi Sidhwa, Bhalla invokes their personal experiences and memories of the years around 1947; their families in pre-Partition India; their Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh neighbors; their ideological shifts; their difficult days of survival amidst the carnage, and the impact of Partition on their writings. This book will interest general readers, students, and researchers in politics and society, South Asian literature, and social history.
Alok Bhalla is Professor of English Literature at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, and has published extensively on literature and politics.
'Bhalla's scholarship and erudition come through in a fine introduction. This is a splendid book, a must-read for anyone interested in Partition.'
... ..Historically and literally a work of importance and interest. Many writers still have many insightful things to say and it is important to read an assessment of their work and lives in their own words.'
This book should have been finished much earlier. I had imagined it soon after I had published Stories about the Partition if India in three volumes (1994) and had edited a book of critical essays on Sadaat Hasan Manto (1997). Even as I thought about the nature of this book, which refused like a trickster to be trapped into a particular shape, I wrote a series of critical essays in which I tried to evaluate the variety of ideological, social, and religious presuppositions which informed Partition fiction. My analysis of Partition fiction assumes that fictional narratives should be read, not as raw materials for the writing of history, but should be placed beside historical accounts, political documents, police reports, religious pamphlets, or personal memoirs. It became apparent to me that novels offer a testimony that is different in kind from the politically and socially inflected archives which the historians primarily use. Rarely do fictional texts concerned with India's partition speak about abstract entities called Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs whose economic and social rights needed to be legally and politically defined, and whose religiously-informed identities needed, as if they were some endangered species, special enclaves of protection from other religious predators. Instead, Partition narratives give a human shape and a human voice to those in whose name, and for whose benefit, the sordid politics of the religious division of the subcontinent was enacted. They are important witnesses to and chroniclers of a sad time when a stable civilization, proud of its interdependent religious faiths and its cultural cosmopolitanism, suddenly, unexpectedly, and without a clear and sufficient historical cause, allowed its public and private realm to be hijacked by armed thugs, egotistical politicians, illiterate priests, moral zealots, bigoted nationalists, and other minions of hell.
My purpose here, in this book, is not to call down damnation once again on those who were self-righteous enough to 'worship terrors and obey the violent. 2 I also want to resist the temptation to write an analysis of Partition novels either as celebrative narratives of nationalist victories or as allegories of triumphant religious faiths, either as melodramas of patriarchal follies where women could easily be sacrificed to preserve the purity of the tribe or as nightmares of suffering. Partition novels are, no doubt, deeply scarred with the
rage of those who had suffered, and they present with great sympathy characters who can neither be consoled nor be urged to forgive. They carry with them the acrid smell of ash, rubble, and rot which can never be washed away. Yet, a generation later, it is imperative to record that Partition fiction is also instinct with pity and remorse; that it truthfully acknowledges the fact that along with many who acted reprehensibly and meanly, there were countless people who were willing to risk offering help to people whose religion pus identities were different from their own and were shocked when their efforts proved futile. There are characters in Bhisham Sahni's Tamas, Kamleshwar's Kuney Pakistan
(How Many Pakistans?), Bapsi Sidhwa's lee-Candy-Man, Krishna Sobti's Zindaqinama (Life-Story), Intizar Husain's Basti, or Krishna Baldev Vaid's Guzra Hua Zamana (The Broken Mirror), who say quite suddenly, and without being able to give any reason for it, to the other standing before them at the very brink of extinction, 'I want you to be'.3 Hannah Arendt, in her great study of the politics of violence, says that such an Augustinian affirmation of the right of the other to survive is a 'miracle' enough in dark times when we often fail to 'trust' that which is 'human in all people'." It enables us to see, beyond the limitations imposed by the politics of religious identities, others as 'Singular, unique, unchangeable' human 'existences', and so discover not only the secular basis of 'the unpredictable hazards of friendship and sympathy', but also the non-discriminatory religious idea of 'the grace of love' without which people can neither endure nor societies survive.
These presuppositions inform the essay that precedes the dialogues with the writers in the book. The essay is neither designed as an introduction to the conversations nor is it meant to analyse the novels of each of the writers. Instead, it explores some of the assumptions which inform nearly all fictional narratives about the partition. Actually, its earliest draft was the basis on which the conversation with Intizar Husain first began. After each meeting with a different writer, the text of the essay was rewritten so as to accommodate what I had heard and learnt; each new dialogue changed the nuances of the earlier conclusions, and each new revision became the inspiration for the next dialogue.
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