“Few years after the Partition, it occurred to the governments of India and Pakistan that they should divide their lunatics too in the way they had divided their other assets. Hence the Hindu lunatics in Pakistani mental asylums were to be delivered to India and the Muslim lunatics in Indian asylums were to be transported to Pakistan.” These are the opening lines of “Toba Tek Singh,” written by Saadat Hasan Manto, the internationally known Urdu short story writer. Manto, after his migration to Pakistan had even wondered whether his literary contributions belonged to India or Pakistan. (Today on Pakistan’s 65th birthday, Manto has been posthumously awarded the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the country’s highest civilian award).
“Azadi,” an English novel by Chaman Nahal opens in a middle class neighborhood of Sialkot. It was June 3, 1947 and few families had gathered around a radio to hear the announcement of Partition. And when Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy of India, makes the announcement in his sharp clipped accent, none of them understand his language but they feel ‘betrayed.’
Although exchange of population was not planned the communal riots such as the one in Nahal’s Sialkot started to erupt and forced people to migrate to the countries of their respective religions. More than ten million people moved in and out of the two countries, one million were killed,75000 women were dishonored and abducted and trainloads of dead bodies were exchanged. One train with Muslim passengers was saved, ironically at the instigation of a corrupt Hindu bureaucrat and a Sikh prisoner, in Khushwant Singh’s novel “Train to Pakistan.”
Apart from Hindus and Muslims, Sikh community too migrated from Pakistan in large numbers, specially from the Punjab area. And then there were other minorities, Christians and Parsis who were not affected directly but they could not remain insensitive to the carnage around them. Bapsi Sidhwa was an eight year old Parsi girl, living in Lahore during Partition. Many years later she wrote her novel “Ice Candy Man” based on her memories of Partition. It was published as “Cracking India” in United States and was adapted by Deepa Mehta for her film “Earth.” If you want to see horrors of insanity during Partition and Aamir Khan in one of his best and unusual roles you should watch “Earth.”
Most of the Indians and Pakistanis know Partition through history text books and official records, but the untold pain that millions of men and women were subjected to has come to them, in bits and pieces, through literature and films. It has also come to them through many stories of victims and witnesses floating around them. After the 50th anniversary of india’s independence and birth of Pakistan there have been some attempts to record such stories. And truth can be more dramatic than fiction as these indeed have added passion to the cold facts collected in the official records. Wary of the statistics and the political chronicles of Partition, Historian K. K. Aziz had already asked “Where are the people? There is no social history.” Perhaps the answer can now be seeked in books such as “The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India”(Duke University Press, 2000) by Urvashi Butalia and “The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan” (Yale Univeristy Press, 2007) by Yasmin Khan. Both focus on human tragedy and not on the bickerings of the politicians. Hence both highlight smaller players, the ordinary people who had been sidelined in history. On the Pakistani side oral history is also being preserved through exhibitions and videos by Citizens’ Archives, a multi-faceted organization initiated by a younger generation of Pakistanis. Hopefully, this will turn into yet another source where one could locate the records of ordinary people who played their roles in the big event.
Although this non-fiction material will be helpful in the greater understanding of the human component of Partition history. But Pakistan is already 65 years old and is on the center stage of global politics. Its story has moved forward and many tragedies have piled on the primordial tragedy of Partition-separation of East Pakistan, wars with India, military coups, execution and assassination of its elected prime ministers and its ongoing war on terrorism. Each episode can be written with the blood of hundreds and thousands of innocent citizens but I am not suggesting to stitch together the smaller stories of the lives lost in order to tell the larger story of Pakistan, may their souls rest in peace. However, as the World has come to know Pakistan through day-to-day reporting on its political, diplomatic and military fronts and have won many notorious titles- a failed state, a flawed state, a dysfunctional state, the most dangerous country in the world- I can only hope that some writer resolves to highlight some of its virtues as well. After all Greg Mortenson discovered a profound hospitality in its villages at the foot of K2. Certainly there is a Pakistan that exists beyond the blazing images of suicide bombings, the story of that Pakistan needs to be told. So far experts may have well-studied the state of Pakistan but the nuances of its society are least understood and it does not require a nobel laureate to narrate those. When Sir V.S. Naipaul was served a cup of tea in Pakistan he complained of it being cold, served by a dirty servant in a stained cup. But Mortenson found Pakistan’s ‘three cups of tea’ worth to crown his story. So that is yet another issue, so much depends on who tells the story!