Unbordered Memories (Sindhi Stories of Partition)

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Item Code: NAP199
Author: Rita Kothari
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9780143063650
Pages: 189
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.0 inch X 5.0 inch
Weight 150 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

If Partition changed the lives of Sindhi Hindus who suffered the loss of home, language and culture, and felt unwanted in their new homeland, it also changed things for Sindhi Muslims. The Muslims had to grapple with a nation that had suddenly become unrecognizable and where they found themselves to be second class citizens. Not used to the Urdu, the mosques and the new avatars of domination, they were bewildered by the new Islamic state of Pakistan. Sindh as a nation had simultaneously become elusive for both communities.

In Unbordered Memories we witness Sindhis from India and Pakistan making imaginative entries into each other's worlds. Many stories in this volume testify to the Sindhi Muslims' empathy for the world inhabited by the Hindus, and the Indian Sindhis' solidarity with the turbulence experienced by Pakistani Sindhis. These writings from both sides of the border fiercely critique the abuse of human dignity in the name of religion and national borders. They mock the absurdity of containing subcontinental identities within the confines of nations and of equating nations with religions. And they continually generate a shared, unbordered space for all Sindhis—Hindus and Muslims.

About The Author

Rita .Kothari is the author of Translating India: The Cultural Politics of English and The Burden of Refuge: The Sindhi Hindus of Gujarat. She has translated widely from Gujarati into English. Some of her translations of note are The Stepchild: Angaliyat and Speech and Silence: Literary Journeys by Gujarati Women. Kothari is currently working on a study of border communities in Kutch, Gujarat, and co-editing a study on Hinglish. She teaches at the Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad.


Amar Jaleel, one of Pakistan's most respected and controversial writers, writes in Sindhi—an official language in both India and Pakistan. He is technically a Muslim. However, his personal creed, spiritual outlook and politics recognize no borders of religion, nation and tradition. A follower of the seventeenth- century Sufi saint, Sachal Sarmast, Jaleel draws radical courage from Sufism and fearlessly critiques any abuse of human dignity in the name of religion and national borders. He mocks the absurdity of containing subcontinental identities within the confines of nations, and of equating nations with religions.

He wrote his most controversial story 'Sard Lashun Jo Safar' (The Journey of Cold Corpses) in the face of unrelenting censorship in the Pakistan of Zia-ul-Haq. In the story, Jaleel takes us to Kundkot, a village in interior Sindh where Hindu families live in a colony called Nanak Mohalla. We are then taken to the house of Gopal, technically a Hindu (his Hinduism as incidental as Jaleel's Islam). While Gopal is busy reading a Sindhi translation of the Koran, a bunch of religious fanatics are raping his sister Savitri. Unlike most Hindus of Sindh, Gopal had chosen not to leave Pakistan to go to India. Perceiving himself to be an integral part of Sindh, he made his family stay back in the new state of Pakistan. His troubles started not in the 1940s, but three decades later, when religious fanaticism flared up with state support. The story shows how Gopal, an ordinary man from a village, had a sophisticated and unbiased understanding of religion. The rest of the story is much too gruesome and violent to be narrated here. Not surprisingly, the story was banned in Pakistan. In India, it remains unknown beyond a tiny circle of Sindhi writers. To my knowledge, this is the only story in the Sindhi language that explicitly addresses Islamic violence against Hindus and, contrary to our expectations, it is not situated during Partition but after, and written not by a Hindu who suffered, but by a member of the majority community in Pakistan who empathized with the suffering.

Disrupting Synonymies

Jaleel documents atrocities perpetrated upon Hindus in an Islamic state. He was prosecuted by the state for writing this story. Besides being a testimony to his courage, this story is important because it defies some of the unquestioned assumptions underlying our understanding of Partition literature and also helps defy some of the repetitive patterns in the literature in general. Partition fiction is generally a sensitive and detailed account of how 'millions of people were forced to leave their homes, their bastis, their desh, their watan, and undertake a difficult and sorrowful journey . . ‘(Bhalla 2007). The journey by train or in qafilas is a recurring trope in Partition literature. Based on the narratives written by 'Indian' nationals— Hindus, Dalits, Sikhs—we assume the difficulties of the journey and its attendant dangers and violence to be our window to the experience of Partition migrants coming from the newly created Pakistan. What is seldom taken into account is the fact that not all communities came by train, and hence encountered violence in physical terms. Or that some members of certain communities, Sindhi-speaking Hindus, for instance, stayed back in the new Pakistan to grapple with a nation that had suddenly turned unrecognizable. Jaleel's Gopal is one such person.

Gopal disturbs the first synonymy we make between Partition and homeland. The second synonymy he breaks is the one between Partition subjects and their ethnicity. Gopal's experiences as a Sindhi Hindu, who continued to live in Pakistan, are different from the experiences described by Kamleshwar or Intizar Hussain or Bhisham Sahni, for his subject position does not coincide with that of the author. Despite Jaleel being a Pakistani citizen, he provides a glimpse into the experience of a non-Muslim in Sindh, somewhat like Taslima Nasrin's sensitive portrayal of the Hindu minority in Lajja. The story, therefore, does not provide an insight into Sindhi Hindus in India, rather it sheds light on the life of a religious minority much after Partition. The assumption that every Hindu migrant speaks only of the 'Hindu' experience, and every 'Muslim' of the Muslim experience is interrogated here. This is not to say that Partition writers do not empathetically write about the 'Other'; however, these are mostly narratives of a 'good' Muslim in a story by a Hindu or a 'good' Hindu in the story by a Muslim—as small islands of humanity in a sea of bewildering hatred that engulfed the subcontinent in 1947. I wish to underscore the disruption of this synonymy to show how the Sindhi narratives are essentially transborder and are not confined by religious and national boundaries. For instance, Jaleel's story positions Gopal, a member of a Hindu minority, as a subject, while Gordhan Bharti (see 'Boycott' in this volume) positions a poor and marginalized Jaman Koli as his chief protagonist. Similarly, Ali Baba, another well-known writer from Sindh (not included in this volume) probes the post-Partition alienation of Indian Sindhis in a story called 'Dharti Dhikaana'.


Translator's Note and Acknowledgements vii
Introduction ix
6 January 1948 1
When I Experienced the Simultaneity of Life and Death .. . 5
Bhoori 14
Boycott 22
Holi 32
Kaafir: The Infidel 35
Khaanwahan 46
Life, a Mere Dream 53
Lost Nations 56
Hunger, Love and Literature 63
Muhammad, the Coach-driver 67
My Amma 74
Obligation 79
Familiar Strangers 91
The Claim 107
The Document 112
The Neighbour 117
The Refugee 124
The Uprooted 130
Who was Responsible? 136
In the Name of Allah 141
Oxen 144
The Death of Fear 147
In Exile 157
Glossary 167

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