In the Heat of Fratricide: The Literature of India's Partition Burning Freshly

Originally published in Annual of Urdu Studies, XI, pp. 227-250, 1996.  Republished in Mushirul Hasan, ed., Inventing Boundaries:  Gender, Politics and the Partition of India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, first edition 2000; second edition 2002.

Alok Bhalla, ed.: Stories about the Partition of India, three volumes (New Delhi: Indus,

Saros Cowasjee and K.S. Duggal, eds.: Orphans of the Storm: Stories on the Partition of
India (New Delhi: UBSPD, 1995).

Mushirul Hasan, ed.: India Partitioned: The Other Face of Freedom, two volumes (New
Delhi: Lotus, 1995).


“This is not that long awaited dawn...”
--Faiz Ahmad Faiz

The transfer of populations surrounding the Partition of India on August 14-15, 1947
created at least ten million refugees, and resulted in at least one million deaths. This is,
perhaps, as much as we can quantify the tragedy. The bounds of the property loss, even
if they were known, could not compass the devastation. The number of persons beaten,
maimed, tortured, raped, abducted, exposed to disease and exhaustion, and otherwise
physically brutalized remains measureless. The emotional pain of severance from home,
family and friendships is by its nature unmeasurable. Fifty years have passed and the
Partition remains unrequited in the historical experience of the subcontinent.

This is, in one sense, as it should be, for the truth remains that the Partition unleashed
barbarism so cruel, indeed so thorough in its cruelty, and complementary acts of
compassion so magnificent--in short a complex of impulses so pernicious, so heroic, so
visceral, so human--that they cannot easily be assimilated into normal life. Neither can
they be forgotten. And so, ingloriously, the experience of the Partition has been perhaps
most clearly assimilated in the perpetuation of communal hostility within both India and
Pakistan, for which it serves as the defining moment. The hope for a different assimilation
has motivated the recent spate of publications on the literature of the Partition--three
major anthologies in the past two years, with others promised for the upcoming anniversary
year. These collections attest not only to the resurgence of literary interest in
the Partition, and the emergence of Partition writings as a genre in modern South Asian
literature in translation, but of a different approach to the event itself: an unbridled
reclamation, a direct gaze at ugliness and survival. The hope is that a just remembrance
mandates a better future.

The historical benefits of these publications are not for Indians and Pakistanis
alone. In wider perspective, the Partition stands as the archetype of what I would call
nationalist fratricide, the conflict between people of a common cultural heritage--usually
also the common subjects of foreign domination--in competition as “nations” for political
control of land and government. (The other principal type of ethnic conflict, nationalist
genocide, is characterized by state-sponsored persecution or slaughter of cultural or
religious minorities--epitomized by the destruction of the European Jews). Those looking
for historical lessons and for the depths of the human impact of current conflicts in the
former Yugoslavia, in Chechnya, in Armenia and Azerbaijan, in Kurdistan, in Rwanda
and Burundi, in the Sudan and in Israel, have much to gain in a close study of the Partition.
A decent number, perhaps even a growing number of Pakistani and Indian historians
will take exception to my characterization of the Partition as a case of fratricide. In
their view, Pakistanis and Indians were not and are not one people, but two--different in
their ways of life, in their religious ideals and in their historical destiny--whose separation
at the end of colonial rule was right, if regrettable in its execution. If one idea emerges
from the body of Partition writings taken as a whole, it is this: such a view is historically
disingenuous, politically opportunistic, apologetic for crimminal behavior committed
in the name of “destiny,” compatible with resignation in the face of preventable suffering,
and a mockery of religious values. Not that the anthologized literature is outwardly
polemic--most of it is not--but the majority of it is necessarily politicized. And this is
good: the Partition was an event so great in its human consequences that its literature
rightly forces us to reckon sides and to choose. It is, after all, the literature’s job to raise
the event psychologically and emotionally, to tie us into its complex of choices and pain.
So knotted we may learn to discriminate the day when (God willing) fratricide no longer
appears a reasonable approach to the fact, indeed the joy of cultural difference.
However unified the literature itself, though, important and even fractious differences
remain between the editorial viewpoints of these anthologies. Because these differences
are critical in determining the climate of the literature’s reception, it is worthwhile
to examine them in some detail before turning to evocation and discussion of the texts

Cowasjee and Duggal’s fine collection of stories from Urdu, Hindi and Panjabi
emerges as the least editorially wieghted of the three. The collection as a whole offers
what the stories individually offer: the psychologies of characters in the midst of the
events, the drama and pathos of their human impact, trauma in various hues. It offers,
plainly, the plainspoken truths of the Partition experience, namely that it was a maze of
brutality, loss, jealousy, cupidity, cunning, death by butchery, by rape, by deracination.
Cowasjee and Duggal’s Introduction is not particularly analytical philosophically or
politically. If anything the collection rides editorially on the disgust, disillusionment and
horror that were central concerns of the Progressive Writers movement, the dominant literary
school in South Asian literature from the twenties through the forties, and the single
greatest literary origin of Partition writing. Both Cowasjee and Duggal were well known
Progressive writers--Duggal’s work in particular achieving critical acclaim--and it comes
as no surprise that their collection should stand as a clear statement of the Progressive
perspective on the Partition. In general the collection presents Progressive writing at its
best, avoiding the sometimes melodramatic excesses of Progressive sentiment, offering a
selection of stories that is nuanced, rich, difficult.

Bhalla has compiled an ambitious anthology, successfully hunting down works
from every major and some minor Indian languages, presenting the perspective of Muslim,
Hindu and Sikh writers. The anthology is not comprehensive, but does succeed in
representating diverse points of view, bringing together some of the best authors and the
best stories. Bhalla wants more than this achievement, however. He intends his collection
to stand as a categorical indictment of communal hatred, as well as a vindication of
his own Gandhian views, and of Gandhi himself. Thus Bhalla offers himself in his Introduction
as a committed partisan of the one-people perspective: that Hindus, Muslims and
Sikhs, Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis, are culturally a single people with different
languages, religions and customs. The evidence of this single peoplehood is, in Bhalla’s
eyes, overwhelming: evident in the deep intermingling of lives, of cultural expression,
of ethos in everday life, in literature, music, architecture, commerce. The violence of the
Partition occurred because a single people was torn into separate nations in a spasm of
religious hysteria, self-interest, panic, bloodlust, greed.

Bhalla’s own focus on the phenomenology of the Partition places him squarely
within the Progressive tradition. But where the Progressives simply offer shock and
outrage at the failure of civilized behavior, and leave the Partition as an unrequited event,
Bhalla offers along with his quotient of shock and outrage a philosophy to redeem both
the past and the future. He observes, trenchantly, that cultural chauvanism arises when
inclusion and exclusion become the mediating criteria according to which a culture is
defined: “[e]ntrapped by the logic of exlusive nationalism, [migrants] learn[ed] too late
that neither the community of religion nor the shared idioms of language can offer a secure
guarantee of a just society and so become the basis of a firm identity. Religious and
linguistic definitions...succeed only in establishing shifting grounds for the inclusion of
some and making all others expendable...[t]hese definitions...can be manipulated for the
purposes of political power by the unscrupulous” (Introduction, p. xxiii). Bhalla’s true
concern thus is articulating the rudiments of a just society. Bhalla does not get very far in
such an articulation, but indicates that achieving a just society demands, at the least, exploding
myths of cultural purity, and denuding any self-enchantment that “sublime feelings
about our particular faiths alone [could] lead us to social justice” (Introduction, p.
xiv). Stated positively, social justice proceeds from admitting the selfish error of construing
another community as essentially other, from admitting our essential connectedness to
one another, and from correct remembrance of our mistakes. Making human connectedness
and self-critical memory central to the building of a just society, we fence ourselves
off from any suspicion that another community is less worthy of justice, which is to say
less holy, than our own. First and foremost, with regard to the Partition, Bhalla implores
us to accept “the absurdity of constructing fundamental entities called the Muslims or the
Hindus who could easily be separated into nation states” (Introduction p. xix), and that
the Partition forced members of both communities “to leave behind a human
return [for] an empty allegory of a religious community” (Introduction, p. xxii).

Approaching the Partition as a task of defining social justice is doubtless right,
and Bhalla deserves commendation. Bhalla begins to stray, however, with the suggestion
that religious faith, cultural pride, the essential connectedness of Muslim, Hindu and
Sikh life in the subcontinent, the incomprehensibility of the notion that there was always
hatred between the communities in everyday life, should together have been enough to
prevent the degeneration into violence during the Partition. “Why did we not, as a people,
resist?” Bhalla asks incredulously.

The stories themselves and a basic knowledge of history suggest a number of
answers for the violence and the lack of resistance that are perfectly compatible with the
one-people approach. First, the political climate of the freedom struggle was violent to
begin with. The British government met the Indian nationalist movement with violent
repression consistently throughout the freedom struggle, from the Khilafat/Noncooperation
activism of 1918-22, through the Noncooperation movement of 1930-34, and the
widespread revolts following the arrests of Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and other leaders at the
start of the Quit India movement in 1942. In addition there were continuous, if rogue
acts of revolutionary terrorism, as well as trade union militancy, communist agitation,
and regular outbreaks of communal rioting. The militant voices of Muslim separatism
became exceedingly important, as we know, after the 1940 Lahore Resolution, in addition
to the voices of Hindu chauvanism in the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, whose message
dovetailed with the more moderate voices of the Hindu religious revival that began in
the nineteenth century. Add to the political turbulence the economic suffering the country
experienced under the British regime, the most obvious consequence of which was
a series of devastating famines causing an estimated thirty million deaths between 1857
and 1947, with three million in 1943 alone--and the result is a condition of extraordinary
explosiveness.  It is quite possible that no force in the world could have prevented the
ignition of such a concentration of social and political discontents.

The stories themselves and a basic knowledge of history suggest a number of
answers for the violence and the lack of resistance that are perfectly compatible with the
one-people approach. First, the political climate of the freedom struggle was violent to
begin with. The British government met the Indian nationalist movement with violent
repression consistently throughout the freedom struggle, from the Khilafat/Noncooperation
activism of 1918-22, through the Noncooperation movement of 1930-34, and the
widespread revolts following the arrests of Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and other leaders at the
start of the Quit India movement in 1942. In addition there were continuous, if rogue
acts of revolutionary terrorism, as well as trade union militancy, communist agitation,
and regular outbreaks of communal rioting. The militant voices of Muslim separatism
became exceedingly important, as we know, after the 1940 Lahore Resolution, in addition
to the voices of Hindu chauvanism in the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, whose message
dovetailed with the more moderate voices of the Hindu religious revival that began in
the nineteenth century. Add to the political turbulence the economic suffering the country
experienced under the British regime, the most obvious consequence of which was
a series of devastating famines causing an estimated thirty million deaths between 1857
and 1947, with three million in 1943 alone--and the result is a condition of extraordinary
explosiveness. It is quite possible that no force in the world could have prevented the
ignition of such a concentration of social and political discontents. Second, the exchange
of populations during the Partition introduced a social vacuum uniquely habitable to
thugs and goons. If the aggressions of an organized few are usually enough to frighten
the unorganized many in times of stability, they are enough to terrorize in times of social
upheaval. Thus, self-protection alone must account for a great deal of the nonresistance.
Such self-protection, while perhaps not noble, is also not a vice. Third, there was legitimate
confusion over the future of the country given the erratic policy of the British
government and the brinksmanship between the League and the Congress. Likewise
there was legitimate confusion over cultural identity, particularly given that tensions by
1947 had risen to a point where extreme views had managed to win the tacit if not explicit
support of moderates. Confusion is eminently permissive of ethical failure. Fourth,
the incendiary quality of media coverage only hastened the collapse of good judgment.
Finally, distinctions must be made between the overt perpetration of violence and the
willing allowance of violence, and also between first and retaliatory acts of violence. The
original perpetration of violence is unquestionably to be condemned. But the allowance
of violence and retaliatory violence are not necessarily indicative of pure ethical rot: they
may just as well proceed from the gross error in judgment of people acting in anger who
did in fact know better. While such errors are not justified, they are perhaps more easily
understood as products of war.

All five violence-begetting elements--the ambient political and social violence,
the terror of an organized few and the self-protective reaction of the many, political and
cultural confusion, inflammatory media reportage, the natural retaliatory impulse in the
face of violence--do not in any way contradict the thesis of shared history and essential
amity between groups. But Bhalla fails to consider these or other sources of violence
when he asks, “why did we not, as a people, resist?” Rather he asks the question as if
the only answer were either that the violence remains essentially inexplicable, or that the
Partition shows human nature itself intrinsically weak and depraved. For Bhalla there is
apparently no explanation for the violence, short of a nihilistic conclusion about human
nature, which Bhalla is loathe to make. Indeed it seems that Bhalla considers himself
noble for not making such a conclusion, which the horror of the events would warrant.

In fact Bhalla’s question is rhetorical, and he offers only naive answers because
the question is a sieve into his own agenda: rehabilitating Gandhi as an ethical model and
a martyr to hatred. Directly following his query about the failure of resistance, Bhalla
asks, “Why did we not follow Gandhi, as we had done often before, on his pilgrimmage
to Noakhali and gather around him at Srirrampur to pledge to uphold the peace?” (Introduction,
p. xiv). The only way Bhalla can ask this question seriously is if Gandhi has
himself become a mythical figure of universal unification. The “we” of Bhalla’s question
cries for definition: not only did Gandhi not enjoy the uncritical support of the Congress
leadership, much of which rejected his Luddite economics and his political strategy (not
to mention his personal idiosyncracies), but his detractors included B.R. Ambedkar, who
criticized him for his support of the varna system and gender inequalities, and mainstream
Muslims who were justifiably suspicious of his trading on Hindu symbolism to
rally political support. To make Gandhi into a model universalist is to take him entirely
on his own terms, which is a sport for the gullible. I do not think, however, that Bhalla is
merely a dupe of Gandhian myth. Rather I believe that he himself, while asserting that
secularism is the only acceptable political solution to the challenge of multi-culturalism,
is sympathetic with Gandhi’s personal religious orthodoxy, and with a Hindu religiosity
modeled on it. Bhalla says, in effect, that Gandhi represents the pinnacle of Hindu ethical
consciousness, which is a pure achievement beyond its political manifestation, and so deserves
to be embraced by members of all faiths as a solution compatible with secularism
to the problem of communal hatred.

Because I respect that Bhalla offers his opinions sincerely, I hesitate to call them
arrogant. But the question remains open whether Gandhi’s legacy can be laundered so
that Gandhi emerges as a prophet of social inclusiveness acceptable to secularists and to
non-Hindus. Trying to make Gandhian Hinduism the true path of ethical universalism,
and the natural handmaiden of political secularism is a dicey proposition, if only in the
effort to be true to the historical record, as Bhalla insists we must be. Whatever Gandhi’s
personal religious feelings, his politics were not evident to all parties as the politics of
universal love. And even his personal ethics are not universally lovable, at least as Gandhi
presents them in his Autobiography, where he frequently appears egocentric, rigid,
unforgiving and exceedingly authoritarian. That aside, Bhalla’s efforts are certainly questionable
in the current political climate, in which there is no more guarantee than there
was fifty years ago that Gandhi will not be revered narrowly as a Hindu hero rather than
as a Hindu universalist. Bhalla risks playing into the hands of those fundamentalists he

The least that Bhalla owes his readers in the way of Gandhi therapy is a thorough
criticism of Bhalla’s own Hindu community both during and after the Partition. Bhalla’s
analysis of Hindu fundamentalist history is curiously abrupt, and off the mark. First,
the problem is not that Hindu fundamentalist historians falsely construct entities called
Hindus and Muslims, as Bhalla claims, but that they distort differences that do exist for
the sake of creating enmity. Second, Bhalla fails to consider that not only was Muslim
resistance to the Hinduized politics of the Indian National Congress not a betrayal of
India, as the Hindu historians claim, but it was a legitimate forum of resistance. That is,
if Gandhi’s Hindu religiosity formed a legitimate, indeed desirable basis of resistance,
then some form of Muslim-centered consciousness must also be admitted. Third, and
perhaps most seriously, Bhalla has the temerity to attack current Pakistani historians who
justify the violence of the Partition in defense of Pakistan as an historical destiny, without
decrying the ways that hindutva history is currently used to justify the persecution of the
Muslim minority in India--indeed without mentioning the appalling levels of communal
violence in the 1990s that such history has abetted. We are left to wonder whether it is
merely accidental that Bhalla’s Gandhian humanism seems remarkably like Indian nationalism,
more concerned with discrediting Pakistani ideology than setting its own house

Where Bhalla positions himself as a lone ethical hero trapped in a universe of
parochial fiends, and then fails to live up to the self-critical standards he expects of others,
Mushirul Hasan emerges as a sober critic who clearly understands the gravity of the
ethical failure the Partition played out--without self-righteousness. The clear editorial
strength of Hasan’s new volumes is his willingness to peer critically into the political
tectonics of the Partition from the Muslim perspective, with a courage that delineates
precisely who won and who lost with the partition of the country. Hasan has collected
two thoughtful, compelling volumes of literary and documentary material from Urdu,
Hindi, Panjabi and English, that enable a deep consideration of the social configuration of
the Partition, largely but not exclusively from the Muslim perspective. Together with the
collection of academic papers he edited in 1993, India’s Partition: Process, Strategy and
Mobilization (New Delhi: Oxford), the new volumes will remain a landmark in Partition
studies for some time to come.

Hasan’s scholarship into the politics that won Pakistan hovers in the background
of his project in these volumes, and provides a light on events that the stories themselves
generally do not shine, namely the politics of the Muslim League’s success, and the political
brinksmanship of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Congress leadership, Lord Mountbatten
and the British government. Neither Hasan nor his collegues question that the status
of the Muslim minority raised a nearly intractable dilemma in the context of rising Indian
nationalist consciousness: such consciousness grew, on the one hand, as against the colonial
regime, but on the other along the contours of internal cultural differences. Where
the colonial status quo involved reducing all groups to minority parties, encouraging them
to make their separate peaces with the British regime--gaining privelege, protection, or
being ignored--Indian nationalists divided between builders of an integrated, pan-Indian
coalition, and builders of a mass majority with pronounced minority exclusion. Hasan
describes the Muslim League’s three-pronged response, which succeeded in mobilizing
the Muslim middle and working classes, and polarizing the overall political climate
after the Lahore Resolution. First, the League galvanized the fears of the Urdu-speaking
muhajir bourgeoisie that they were in direct competition with and mortally outnumbered
by a tightly knit, conspiratorial Hindu bania. Second, it swayed self-seeking local lanndlords
and political henchmen, particularly in the Panjab, by capitalizing on the electoral
miscalculations of its opponents (the Congress, the Panjabi Unionist Party), and by secretly
promising not to enact land reforms in Muslim controlled areas. Third, it sent pirs
together with Aligarh students to canvass the countryside. The pirs, whom the League
paid tens of thousands of rupees, convinced large numbers of people that dedication to
the Muslim League was a religious duty. The students transformed the League’s popular
appeal into an anti-Hindu hysteria, drumming up a paranoia that could only be solved by
Muslim secession from the rest of India and the creation of a fundamentalist theocracy to
save the “endagered” Muslim people.

What Hasan and others call into question is how much Jinnah actually wanted
partition. They suggest that Jinnah after 1937 was hemmed in from two sides: by provincial
Muslim bosses, particularly in the Panjab, and by the provincial Congress ministries,
which sought on the strength of the Congress’ showing in the 1937 elections to
marginalize Jinnah and the League. The secular, liberal Jinnah, according to the new
thinking, was imperfectly committed, even perhaps uncommitted--but in any case far less
committed than the Muslim religious right--to the two nation theory of essential cultural
and political differences between Hindus and Muslims, and the picture of Islam in danger--
of, that is, Muslims as hapless victims of communal riots perpetrated by a hostile
Hindu majority, of the Muslim salariat in a losing battle with the dominant caste Hindu
salariat, and of Urdu under seige. (Incidentally, he was also far less committed than the
Hindu religious right, which viciously attacked not only Muslims but secularists also). In
the revisionist perspective, Jinnah did not embrace religious mobilization and the demand
for partition because he was wedded to a sovereign Muslim religious homeland, but because
he needed to win support for the League in Muslim dominated areas, and to break
the Congress’ grip on the post-independence central government. In short, Jinnah made a
bargaining chip of the spectre of partition in his effort to make a place for himself and the
League in a united, free India. Jinnah’s India would have been characterized by provincial
autonomy, benefitting the League in the Muslim dominated provinces, accompanied
by parity between the League and the Congress at a weak center. Additionally, separate
Muslim provinces within a united India would facilitate the League’s other principal
charge, the protection of Indian Muslims where they were in the minority.

For the Congress, the reverse would be true: a partition of the country would
certify its control over a strong central governement. Such control, Hasan and his corps
argue, ultimately proved more important to the Congress than Indian unity. The genius of
the Congress strategy was to force Jinnah to wear the black mark of division, putting up a
facade of unity while deliberately pushing Jinnah toward his Pakistan. Thus both Nehru’s
and Gandhi’s reactions to the Lahore Resolution were from the beginning calculating.
Shortly after the passage of the Resolution, Gandhi, realizing that partition promised fratricide,
effectively equated his nonviolence with nonprotection of the innocent, and with a
willingness to accept blood as the price of the Congress’ leadership:

“Unless the rest of India wishes to engage in internal fratricide, the others will have to
submit to the Muslim dictation, if the Muslims will resort to it...The Muslims must have
the same right to self-determination that the rest of India has. We are at present a joint
family. Any member may claim a division... As a man of non-violence, I cannot forcibly
resist the proposed partition if the Muslims of India really [insist] upon it [sic]... My
whole soul rebels against the idea that Hinduism and Islam represent two antagonistic
cultures and doctrines... But that is my belief. I cannot thrust it down the throats of the
Muslims who think that they are a different nation.” (1)

Likewise, on April 15, 1940, Nehru was reported to be

“pleased, not because he liked [the Lahore Resolution]--on the contrary he considered it
to be the most insane suggestion--but because it very much simplified the problem. They
were now able to get rid of the demands about proportionate representation in legislatures,
services, cabinets, etc... [He] asserted that if people wanted such things as suggested
by the Muslim League at Lahore...they and people like him[self]...could not live
together in India.” (2)

So too, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in the thirty pages of his 1957 memoir, India Wins
Freedom, disclosed in 1988, points his finger at Nehru’s responsibility, and gives the lie
to the myth of “the Congress for Unity, the League for Partition:”

I warned Jawaharlal [in 1946] that...if we agreed to Partition...[t]he verdict would be that
India was not divided by the Muslim League but by the Congress. (3)

Finally, in 1960, Nehru himself made the opprobrious confession: “The truth is that...the
plan for partition offered a way out and we took it.”

Jinnah, along with the Congress leadership, accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan in
June, 1946, which did not call for partition. The Congress then destroyed the option by
refusing to accede to parity with the League in the interim government, or to a compulsory
grouping of the six Muslim provinces. In 1947, Jinnah was willing to accept a united
India with a “dominion” of the six provinces. So it was that Jinnah remained obstinate in
public and considerably more pliable behind the scenes. The final outcome of negotiations,
mandating the dual transfer of power to a bifurcated Pakistan and an Indian state,
followed from Congress policy and the British government’s acquiescence to it.(4)

Whether the League, the Congress or the British were the most culpable in the
high level brinksmanship, the new scholarship makes clear the extradordinary recklessness
of the demand for partition, fuelling as it did social engines of hatred beyond
anyone’s control, soliciting communal hatred as the best outlet for the social tensions of
the period. The scholarship suggests the following answer to the question of whether
Pakistan was an historical destiny: bloodshed was the destiny of the politics of arrogance
and deceit. And so like Bhalla, Hasan believes that Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent
formed a single people, sharing a culture in which linguistic, regional and fraternal
bonds crossing religious communities were socially foundational, and indeed, in which
folk religious worship was frequently a fusion of Hindu and Muslim practice. Who were
the losers in the Partition? Without question it was the great majority of common people
who had lived side by side for generations, and had cultivated deep attachments to land,
language, friendship and a shared cultural heritage. Hasan writes: “It is undeniable that
most people, Hindus and Muslims alike, were largely unconcerned with or indifferent to
the newly created geographical entities. Most were caught up in the cross fire of religious
hate. Most were driven out of their homes and drifted from one place to another out of
fear, panic and a sense of hopelessness. They were indeed hapless victims of a triangular
game plan, worked out by the British, the Congress and the League without care or consideration
for huge number [sic] of people who had no commitment to a Hindu homeland
or fascination for an imaginary dar al-Islam. They had no destination to reach, no mirage
to follow” (Volume I, p. 33). It is only natural that Hasan like Bhalla should strive with
his collection to fathom “the immediate and the long term impact of Partition on the silent
majority, uprooted from home and field and driven by sheer fear of death to seek safety
across a line they had neither drawn nor desired” (Volume I, p. 27).


“Somewhere the wave of the slow night will melt the shore
and somewhere the boat of the heart’s grief will anchor...”
--Faiz Ahmad Faiz

It is well that the high politics of the Partition hang in the background of the majority of
the stories themselves, which dwell in the affective experience of the events and their
consequences for ordinary people. It is, after all, in drawing forth the ways the Partition
felt, beyond debate about what caused it and what it caused, that it reaches a universal accessibility,
and gets lodged in a broad section of humanity’s historical memory.

Across the anthologized material, three central thematic areas emerge: rupture,
protest and repair. Though none of the anthologies is thematically arranged, these three
motifs taken in a progression form a natural response to the Partition, a continuum from
pain to healing. Stories of rupture involve a basic confusion, a groping for sense and sanity
amid personal, social and sometimes existential loss. Stories of protest grow fundamentally
from anger, and decry human savagery, the vitiation of values, the betrayal of
social contract. Stories of repair, finally, remind us of the sparks of ethical conscience
that dwell in the human soul, even in the most degraded of times, and of the healing power
of positive memory. Of course, many stories include more than one of these themes.

The three anthologies do differ slightly in their thematic emphases. Cowasjee and
Duggal include mainly stories of rupture and protest. Bhalla includes stories of all three
types, with perhaps a larger quotient of stories of repair. Hasan’s volumes are weighted
in favor of stories of protest. It should be said to the credit of all the editors and translators
that their selections are, in general, literarily sophisticated as English works. Indeed,
in the 136 stories the three anthologies together offer, only one seems to treat the Partition
entirely superficially, at the level of its crimes and atrocities, even exploiting them for literary
shock value, proffering the easy answer of indignation in the face of the Partition’s
complexities. This is Krishan Chander’s “The Peshawar Express,” in which a personified
train narrates a putrid journey of murder and woe from Peshawar to Bombay. The story
is simplistic and specular in a literal sense: it describes events as a mute passerby might
see them. By literarily sophisticated I mean not that the other stories are all successful,
but that they are dramatically, emotionally, psychologically or philosophically skilled.
Within such skill is a range of success. Many plot-driven works read well, perhaps because
they are relatively easy to translate. Of the emotionally driven works, those focussing
on anger tend to be more successful than those based in melancholy, which easily
becomes facile sentimentality. Alok Bhalla’s and Vishwmitter Adil’s translation of Ismat
Chugtai’s “Roots,” for example, seems concertedly on the saccharine side. The same can
be said for their translation of Gurmukh Singh Musafir’s “The Abandoned Child,” for
Mihir Bhattacharya’s translation of “The White Horse,” and Bhisham Shahni’s own translation
of his “Pali.” Likewise Faruq Hassan’s translation of Qudrat Ullah Shahan’s “Ya
Khuda,” which contains moments of extraordinary pathos, is uneven and at times cloying
in its portrayal of its protagonist’s wizened numbness. Luckily, nearly all the stories
that work primarily as psychological and philosophical studies are decently translated,
particularly those of Intizar Husain. The notable exception is Kamleshwar’s “How Many
Pakistans?”--which despite being included in all three collections--is in none of them
quite able to marry the protagonist’s directionlessness in the last scene with his knowing
tenderness in first.

Hasan’s collection raises special concerns because it, unlike the others, treats
fictional and nonfictional writing, combining stories, exerpts from long fiction, poems,
oral histories, interviews and memoir material. Hasan’s editorial choice to include both
types of writing brings us face to face with an essential problem of writing the Partition
as the human experience it was, namely that the overwhelming majority of its events
went unrecorded, unverbalized. The writer of historical fiction strives to make particular
events resound with the vast catalogue of silent events, to make the writing conjure what
can never be fully spoken, and historical fiction thereby validates historical truth precisely
in its power to represent. Documentary writing, on the other hand, remains closely
attached to particular persons, particular contexts, and achieves a sense of representation
only when the person relating the events is especially insightful. When the two genres
are combined, what might seem like poetic license in the fiction--for example, in descriptions
of violence and crimminality--reads true to the personal experiences of the nonfiction.
At the same time, the nonfiction, when informed by the fiction, seems to describe
not just the particular experience of an individual, but also commonplace experience. As
tempting as it might be to privilege fictional investigation for its aesthetic and philosophic
richness, Hasan’s volumes abundantly bear out that the fiction’s power is, if anything,
increased when offered together with nonfictional accounts. This is particularly true in
the case of oral history, interview and other testimonial texts, which are experiential and
nonanalytical, and so are strikingly close in their feeling to much of the short fiction. The
juxtaposition draws attention to the different truths different sorts of writing tell--and is
one of Hasan’s collection’s principal achievements.

For those with limited time to study the anthologized material, the following are,
I think, the finest pieces.5 It is, naturally, impossible here to relate the works in their fullness,
or to do justice to the many extraordinary characters and scenes the stories impart.

1. Texts of rupture and loss are epitomized by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’ “Revenge” (C/D),
Lalithambika Antharjanam’s “The Mother of Dhirendu Muzumdar” (B2), Badiuzaman’s
“The Alien” (H1), Samaresh Basu’s “Adab” (B3, C/D), Salil Choudhary’s “The Dressing
Table” (B1), Intizar Husain’s “The City of Sorrow” (B2), “A Letter from India” (B1),
“The Stairway” (C/D) and “An Unwritten Epic” (B3), Ibrahim Jalees’ “A Grave Turned
Inside Out” (B2), Kamleshwar’s “How Many Pakistans?” (B2, C/D, H1), Saadat Hasan
Manto’s “Black Margins” (H1; two selections appear in B1 as “Compassion,” and “Sorry”),
“Cold Meat” (B1), “Mozel” (B2), “The Reunion” (C/D, translated in B2 as “Open
It”), “A Tale of 1947” (C/D), “Toba Tek Singh” (B3, C/D) and “Xuda Ki Qasam” (C/D),
Mumtaz Mufti’s “An Impenetrable Darkness” (H1), Vishnu Prabhakar’s “My Native
Land” (H1), Mohan Rakesh’s “God’s Dog” (B2), M.S. Sarna’s “Savage Harvest” (C/D),
Qudrat Ullah Shahab’s “Ya Khuda” (C/D), Krishna Sobti’s “Where is my Mother?” (B2,
C/D) and “The New Regime” (H1) and Umm-e-Ummara’s “More Sinned Against Than
Sinning” (B1).

Abbas’ “Revenge” is the terse tale of Hari Das, a prominent Panjabi lawyer who has lost
his entire family in the massacres: his wife drowned herself, and a bloodthirsty crowd
raped and murdered his daughter. Consumed with the desire for revenge, Hari Das
becomes fixed on the notion of stabbing a Muslim girl in her naked breasts. Living as a
refugee in Delhi, it happens that he receives a sum money from a rehabilitation fund. He
decides to spend it in lavish fulfillment of his violent fantasy. He goes to a brothel and
sets his sight on an extraordinarily beautiful Muslim prostitute. He enters into a seductive
drama with her, gracing her dance with note after note, until, at the end of the evening,
he accompanies her to her bedroom. With his knife in his pocket, and a manic gloss
in his eyes, he bolts the door and orders her to undress, piece by piece, under the electric
light. When only her brassiere remains, the girl covers her face with her hands and begins
to sob. Hari Das raises the knife above her, and grabs at her hands to see the look of
terror on her face as he kills her. The girl shrieks. Hari Das intuitively recognizes more
than terror in her look--but also fear, hate, a plea for mercy, hopelessness--a look her face
had borne before, and the very look he had seen on his own daughter’s face. When he
snatches away her brassiere, his dagger still poised above her, he can only avert his eyes:
“beneath the brassiere where he was going to stab her, there were no breasts...there was
nothing--nothing but two horrible round scars.” We imagine that Hari Das realizes that
revenge only contributes an economy of mutilation, but Abbas leaves open whether such
a realization can match the force of tears and shame. Revenge, Abbas suggests, may be a
poor response to the pain, but poor because there is no reclaiming such pain. We see that
the urge for revenge veils the pain. Abbas in his story lifts the veil, but gives no direction
for living with the pain more directly felt.

Perhaps the finest writer of pithy, biting stories, Saadat Hasan Manto, receives
considerable attention in these collections. Manto’s achievement--and the reason for
treating him foremost as writer of rupture--is to place his readers in the heat of depraved,
senseless and twisted universes from which he offers--in what is perhaps his own vengeance--
no clear escape. We are left only with speed and violence coursing in the blood
of his characters, spun off without soothing messages or disclaimers. “Cold Meat” brilliantly
traces the thin line between sexual urge and bloodlust, as a jealous woman murders
her usually virile lover, who has become impotent after abducting a woman, killing
her family and raping her with such lust he fails to notice she too is dead. “Open It” tells
the dark story of a refugee who hires a group of self-appointed social workers to find his
missing daughter. The men locate her, feed her and--her father discovers in the end--brutally
rape her. “Toba Tek Singh” relates with acid humor the story of a lunatic (perhaps
any of us who tries to rationalize the Partition, Manto suggests), who in the exchange of
asylum inmates between the two countries, answers the official queries of which country
he belongs to with repeated nonsensical sputter, only to be left lying in a no man’s land
between barbed wire fences. In “Black Margins,” Manto strings together a series of gritty
vignettes, sometimes fragments of vignettes, of Partition evils. The piece is perhaps not
as refined as his other work--which may account for why Hasan includes only twentytwo
of the original thirty-two pieces, and why Bhalla includes only two6--but reveals the
character of the moral hell Manto sees in the Partition. The following segment of the
story, titled “Reformed,” recounts a pitiless mob interrogation, in this case by Hindus, of
a captive:

“Who are you?”
“But who are you?”
“Har Har Mahadev! Har Har Mahadev!”
“Har Har Mahadev!”
“What’s the proof?”
“Proof? My name is Dharamchand.”
“But this is no proof.”
“I’m well versed in the four Vedas. Ask me about them.”
“We don’t know about the Vedas. We demand proof.”
“Loosen your pyjamas.”
A cry went up when the pyjama was lowered. “Kill him! Kill him!”
“Wait, wait I am one of you. I swear I am one of you.”
“Then what’s all this?”
“The locality I live in is full of enemies. So I was forced to do it--to save my life. This is
my only mistake. For the rest I’m just fine.”
“Chop off his mistake!”
The mistake was chopped off. So was Dharamchand.

Where the stories of Manto, as well as Samaresh Basu, Krishna Sobti, Mumtaz
Mufti, M.A. Sarna and others offer profound confusion in the form of unrequited violence
or madness, Intizar Husain, Umm-e-Ummara, Qudrat Ullah Shahaz and others
offer it as philosophic and existential crisis, or as boundless meditation on sorrow. Intizar
Husain’s “The City of Sorrow” is a disembodied, Beckett-like story of violence sustained
and suspended in a memory that not only fails to forgive, but fails even in its fixation to
numb. Husain’s brilliant “An Unwritten Epic” begins as the epic novel of a hero murdered
internally by the contradictions of the Partition, and then literally murdered--when
the work is truncated and continued as the author’s diary entries telling of his difficulties
and finally his decision to abandon writing, in what he considers the inhumanity of life in
Pakistan. The story leaves us in realm in which all efforts to recuperate the tragedy of the
Partition through writing have failed: the effort to write the character of a hero capable of
transcending the pain, a man who could “fight the wind with a lamp;” the effort to write
supposedly only for oneself, diaristically; finally the effort even to write inability. Abandoning
writing, the author claims he has “come to his senses.” Husain’s particular genius
in this and many of his pieces is to mum and straightjacket us, and at the same time
engender a strange feeling of release and completion in perpetual unfulfillment. In this
way Husain, in stringing us in confusion along to infinity, perfectly complements Manto’s
punching us in the stomach with it.

2.Texts of betrayal and protest are best represented by Satinath Bhaduri’s “The Champion
of the People” (B1), Kartar Singh Duggal’s “Kulsum” (B3, C/D), Josh Malihabadi’s
“My Ordeal as a Citizen of Pakistan” (H2), Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin’s “A Limb
Cut Off” (H2), Suraiya Qasim’s “Where Did She Belong?” (B2, C/D), Ved Rahi’s
“Death” (B3), Rahi Masoom Reza’s “The Feuding Families of Village Gangauli” (H1),
Bhisham Sahni’s “The Train Has Reached Amritsar” (BI, translated in H1 as “We Have
Arrived in Amritsar”), Gulzar Singh Sandhu’s “Gods on Trial” (C/D), Ganda Singh’s “A
Diary of Partition Days” (H2), Fikr Tauswi’s “The Book of Divine Knowledge” (H1),

S.H. Vatsyayan “Ajneya”’s “Getting Even” (B1, translated in C/D as “The Avenger”) and
“The Refuge” (B2, translated in H1 as “The Asylum”) and Yaspal’s “A Holy War” (B1).
S.H. Vatsyayan’s “The Refuge” relates the onset of terror in an integrated mohalla in
Pakistan. Devenderlal’s friend, Rafiquddin, promises him protection in the event of
violence. The high minded Rafiquddin is motivated not just by friendship, but by the
dictates of universal justice: “We will not let you go,” he insists, “...[i]t is the duty of the
majority to protect the minority...If we can’t protect our neighbors, how can we possibly
protect our country? I am sure that the Hindus in Panjab, where they are in the majority,
must be thinking and acting in the same way.” Devenderlal accepts his friends reassurances,
only to see his own house soon looted. As the atmosphere in the city becomes
increasingly vicious, a band comes and threatens Rafiquddin for hiding Devenderlal.
Rafiquddin has no choice but to move Devenderlal to a small room in the compound of a
friend who works as a police clerk. Devenderlal finds himself imprisoned indefinitely in
solitary confinement--in the newly “free” Pakistan--his only companion a cat. Time goes
by. One day he finds a cryptic note in his food, which turns out to be an act of mercy.
He feeds the cat, and the cat dies. Devenderlal gathers his things and jumps over the
compound wall into an unknown future, his friendship having been overpowered by the
enmity of strangers, and the generosity of other strangers liable at any time to poison him.

Bhisham Sahni’s “The Train Has Reached Amritsar” masterfully describes the
breakdown of civil amity in a confined public space. Riding in a train through western
Panjab east to Amritsar, three jovial Pathans poke fun at a mirthless Hindu. From the
train window, passengers see the smoke of burning villages, and panic on the platforms of
rural stations. At one stop, a Hindu family fleeing a mob attempts to board the compartment.
One of the Pathans approaches the family, swearing and claiming the compartment
is full, then gratuituously kicks the woman of the family in the stomach, sending her
screaming to the floor in pain, and begins throwing the family’s baggage out of the train.
The family tries to recover its baggage, but fails. As the train begins to pull away from
the station, the family frantically disembarks, crippled and terrified. The Hindu seethes
with anger, abuses the Pathans verbally, and resolves to take revenge. The compartment
becomes grim and silent. When the train reaches Amritsar, both the Hindu and the
Pathans leave the compartment. The Hindu returns with a metal rod to find that his adversaries
have relocated. He roundly abuses the other passengers on the train for letting
them “escape.” The train leaves the station and soon most of the passengers are sleeping,
except the Hindu, who is restless. In the middle of the night, as the train is moving
slowly through the countryside with its lights out, there is a banging on the door, and the
plead of a refugee who has caught the door handle, his wife running beside the train, “In
the name of Allah, open the door! Open the door!... There is a woman with me. She’ll
be left behind...” The Hindu opens the door. Suddently his rod flashes and comes down
hard on the man’s head. The man grimaces in terror at his anonymous assailant, and falls
from the footboard in a heap. The babu surveys the compartment, and then flings the rod
into the night.

Yaspal’s “A Holy War” is likewise a microcosmic study of hatred, this time in a
dense, integrated lane in Lahore in 1947. Communal terror has driven all the Muslims
from their locale, with the exception of the dyer, Fazzay, who has lived in the lane for
forty years, and his son, Nasru. The humble, peaceful Fazzay stays in the confidence that
the tumoil is only temporary. Nasru, however, years to do what other Muslims of the
city are doing: to burn, loot and kill in the “holy war” for the creation of Pakistan. Fazzay
scolds him intensely: “Shut up. You stupid son of a pig!...don’t talk nonsense... This
shop was set up by your father. You were born in this room. It’s the women of this lane
who...looked after your mother. She...died in this very room. It is this Gali which has
given us shelter and helped us earn our bread. Wait patiently, things will settle down.”
When Hindus begin to flee the city, Fazzay becomes despondent, while Nasru becomes
elated, and gleefully joins in the looting. Troops occupy the city, curfew is imposed, and
Fazzay becomes sick with worry. When Nasru returns, the two are confined with one another
in their small shop. They fan each other, and quarrel. After a sleepless night, Nasru
opens the door for air, and sees a well known, old Hindu widow of the lane stealing away,
wrapped in a bedsheet, carrying her money in a bundle. “Let her go, why should you
care?” Fazzay asks. “May Allah protect her.” ...When Fazzay, staggering on his old legs,
finally reaches the bazaar, Nasru has not only caught up with the old woman, but stabbed
her and taken her bundle. Trembling with rage, Fazzay drags his son back to their room.
Nasru is overjoyed with himself: “Bitch...the kafir was running away with the stone idol
of her God,” he laughs derisively. Fazzay is alternately exhausted and burning with rage.
“May a pig--your mother,” he curses. “May you burn in Hell... The kafir was running
away with the stone idol of her God. She should have smashed your head with her stone
idol...” The story powerfully telegraphs the pain of the Partition, conveying the impairment
of judgment in communal disintigration so rapid it dissolves not only tightly woven
communities, but even single families.

Ganda Singh’s “Diary of Partition Days,” a nonfictional narrative, documents
the grim toll of the religious hate rhetoric in Panjab from April, 1947 through January,
1948. From personal observations, newpaper accounts and astute political intuition,
Singh pieces together the month to month political developments with details of the
mounting campaign of death, showing how the forces of destruction proceeded with their
own momentum, aided by the rancor of political contention. In March, 1947 we see the
first Muslim armed offenses in Panjab; in April and May, riots in Amritsar, and then in
Lahore, with stabbings of 200 and more at a time. By October the violence has reached
epidemic proportions, including, for example, the massacre of 2000 Hindus and Sikhs
in a special envoy train by a Muslim mob. By January mobs of greater than 25,000 are
roaming Karachi, looting and massacring, with the police standing by the wayside, taking
their share. The narrative clearly shows that after April, 1947, if the brutal communal
violence in Bihar, Calcutta and Noakhali in 1946 were not enough, no one could mistake
the upshot of a religious partition of the country.

Unlike most of the other texts in these collections, “Diary of Partition Days” does
leave the impression that one group, in this case the Muslims, was more culpable than
other groups in the violence. Other texts with discernable communal allegiances include
Shorish Kashmiri’s “Humiliated and Harassed They Left” (H2), Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi’s
“Hindu-Muslim Social Relations 1935-47” (H2), both pro-Muslim in their orientation,
as well as the collection of League propaganda poems, “It’s Voting Day: Let’s March...
Mukhiaji” (Urdu propaganda poems, H1). Hasan’s decision to include these texts, particularly
the poems, is justified because they provide important documentary material--even
their bias proves informative. Whether inclusion of such texts would be justified were
they fictional remains an open question. Bhalla strongly disapproves of including communally
charged stories, believing that they perpetuate “codes of fraud” by insufficiently
describing the communally shared and reciprocal nature of the Partition’s crimes. To
prove his point he attacks certain stories in his own volumes, for example Krishna Sobti’s
“Where is my Mother?”, the story of a Pathan murderer’s acts of mercy toward an innocent
Hindu child who refuses to trust him. Also he makes a point of stating his exclusion
of other stories he deems communal, claiming they are poor literature. While he is right
to condemn such stories, it is not clear that they should be excluded: as Hasan demonstrates,
when properly contextualized they may aid the discriminating reader. Bhalla’s
criteria for judging a story communal also demands refinement. First, it is not clear that
the literary value of so-called communal stories would improve with demonstrations the
author’s knowledge of history. For example Sobti’s story, in what I would consider a
plain and reasonable reading, gains its effectiveness precisely because it is terse. Second,
many stories are told largely from the point of view of a single community, and this in
itself cannot be considered a communal liability.

3. Outstanding texts of repair and memory include Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s “A Debt to
Pay” (C/D, translated in B2 as “The Death of Sheikh Burhanuddin”), Ashfaq Ahmed’s
“The Shepherd” (B2), Lalithambika Antharjanam’s “A Leaf in the Storm” (B1), Rajinder
Singh Bedi’s “Lajwanti” (B1, C/D, H1), Ismat Chughtai’s “Roots” (B3), Jamila Hashmi’s
“Exile” (B1), Attia Hosain’s “After the Storm” (B2, C/D), Narendranath Mitra’s “The
Four-Poster Bed” (B2, translated in C/D as “The Four-Poster”), Mohan Rakesh’s “The
Owner of Rubble” (B1, translated in C/D as “The Proprietor of the Debris,” translated in
H1 as “Lord of the Rubble), Ramlal’s “A Visitor from Pakistan (B1), Kushdeva Singh’s
“Love is Stronger than Hate” (H2) and Suresh Vaid and Urvashi Butalia’s “We are Still
Theirs” (H2).

Attia Hosain’s “After the Storm” is an exquisitly told vignette of the first meetings between
a resettled housewife (or so it seems--the narrator’s gender is not given) and a child
servant who lost her family during the riots. Winsomely and innocently the girl cannot
help but seed new life--despite the brutality she has witnessed--bringing flowers and
garlands, mixing her responses to questions about the violence she has seen with talk of
sweets and bangles. The story avoids sentimentality superbly. We truly feel that we are
being led by the child into liminal realms of the human spirit so pure that they survive
unspeakable trauma and educate us in the release of our bigotry and grief.

Lalithambika Antharjanam’s “A Leaf in the Storm” is likewise a sensitive and
powerfully told story of survival. Jyoti arrives pregnant and despondent in a refugee
camp, having been betrayed, abducted and raped in her transport across the border. The
life inside her, “conceived in...inhuman rape and ignorance,” tortures her as she watches
births and deaths in the camp and grows increasingly bitter at the corruption that put and
keeps her there. She is likewise tortured by her own idealism, her ardent, long-cultivated
desire for “freedom from slavery for her community, indeed for the whole human race,”
which has been rudely dashed and has been reticulated back into her very body as the
physical pain of her pregnancy. When the child is born she herself is thrust into a profound
and spontaneous confrontation with the value of life. Miraculously, almost despite
herself, she chooses life, taking the child in her arms, letting her life-blood flow “like
fresh milk.”

The interviews in Hasan’s second volume with Partition survivors, as well as
fictional pieces such as Mohan Rakesh’s “The Owner of Rubble” and Ismat Chughtai’s
“Roots,” reveal the healing power of memory--which is separate from the justice-producing
power of memory. In these texts, memories of a shared communal life, of friendhips,
of a civilization based on mutuality becomes not just salve for wounds, but life forces in
themselves. Such memory-driven passion emerges in complex ways from “We are Still
Theirs,” an interview with Amrik Singh originally of Doberan Village near Rawalpindi,
which was seriously affected by riots in March, 1947. In long, digressive and somehow
still pointed passages, Singh recounts the past and also his conviction, born from his
travels through Pakistan in the 1970s and 1980s, that great affection still remains at the
popular level between citizens of the two countries:

“That shop where we were sitting at that time--this is of 1976 that I am speaking--I said
to them, now you must be happy. They said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Earlier the
angrez were rulers, now you have your own rulers. Bhutto Saheb is Prime Minister.’ He
said, ‘So what? After all, what was there earlier, the same thing.’ So I asked him what
he wanted. He said, “We want many things, but we won’t get them. What we want is
to become what we once were, to be together again. But that will not happen...these are
battles to win power, these people want their kursis here, your people want their kursis
there, and we’re just caught in between. We really feel that it was best as it was before.
If we can become like that again, we’ll really be happy, we’ll celebrate.’ They told us,
he went on, that our lane was still empty. The village is full of people, but we have not
let that lane be settled. You people are still there...and we keep hoping that one day you
will come. We will help you with your work... There was so much love in their hearts for

If the upshot of the renascent interest in the literature of the Partition is reclamation
of the single peoplehood of the subcontinent, in its shared culture as well as shared
violence, then the reclamation proves both a liberation--of the everyday life not imprinted
either Hindu or Muslim--and a yoke--the recoupling of the grand narrative of the freedom
struggle with the complexities that made freedom an experience of slaughter and
inhumanity for many. Of course political debate will continue to penetrate the contributions
of the various players--the British government’s longstanding policy of sewing
political divisiveness and haste in leaving India; the fanaticism of Muslim Leaguers and
Hindu fascists who with gross lack of political sagacity ignored the evidence that partition
would result in massive death and destruction precisely because of the density of
the bicultural fabric; Hindu communalists disguising themselves as Congressmen and
preventing the national movement from becoming truly inclusive; moderate muhajirs and
landlords who allowed themselves to be polarized by extremist propaganda; Gandhi’s
and Jinnah’s inabilities to guide the movements they initiated away from the forces of
reactionary communalism; the newly formed Indian and Pakistani governments’ failure
to guarantee the security of their citizens, including government officials who profited
personally from the unrest; all the individuals who killed, raped and looted, whether out
of ideological conviction, personal greed, the idiotic aping of others, or retaliation as if
for interpolative balance. Such debate will likewise go some distance in sussing out the
psychology of the upheaval--what happened in thousands of villages and towns when
thugs and extremists entered the question of the common man and woman, “to go or not
to go?”, and forced a decision that ensured counter violence on the other side of the border,
a vicious cycle of fear and terror.

What political debate will never fully do--and the reason we so badly need the literature--
is defeat the urge to lay blame, which keeps animosity alive. Only the literature
truly evokes the suffering of the innocent, whose pain is more universal and ultimately a
vehicle of more honest reconciliation than political discourse. The literary work on the
Partition affirms that the subject of the Partition was first the human being--not the Hindu
human being, or the Muslim, or the Sikh. In the world of the stories, the experiences of
each community distinctly mirror one another, indeed reach out and clutch at one another.
No crime, no despair, no grief at exile belongs uniquely to anyone. On the one hand,
then, the stories seem to suggest that secularism puts a fence around the sanctity of life
often more effectively than religious devotion--when, that is, secular thinking destroys religious
myths of destiny and privilege that justify violence. At the same time they remind
us that secular nationalism is not without its own mythology, including justification of
foundational violence and violence deemed necessary for national sustenance.

Perhaps we emerge from the literature with a mefiance toward group solidarity of
an oppositional bent. If so we must emerge at the same time, paradoxically, with a conviction
to oppose such mefiance with trust in the goodness of the human life-urge wherever
we find it. Indeed, we emerge from the literature as searchers for such trust. If we
find it in the solitary dissidence of even a single person--we feel obliged to offer him or
her our compionship. And if we find it stitched into whole communities--we come away
not necessarily more pious, but inspired. The literature as a whole seeds pathos for the
suffering and inhumanity of the Partition, and related instances of cultural chauvanism,
but not merely so. It also sprouts a countervailing protest, a voice of justice that must be
the surging of our humanity itself--something greater than our beastiality--within us. In
this sense the literature does what religious leaders in each community failed to do: to
make communities forces for the affirmation of humanity broadly, and to forge nations-
-if nations are the destinies of cherished traditions--dedicated to human improvement,
dedicated precisely to virtuous conduct with those of different faith. If religious politics
worked nefariously in favor of partition, it was because an ecumenical religious politics
never developed. We are in a different position than the men and women of August,
1947. Our choices are not limited to exile, death or resignation. If the literature of the
Partition can teach that committed people of different faiths serve God far more effectively
when they face one another in prayer than when they face their respective temples,
we can learn to exercise such a choice.

1. Asim Roy: “The High Politics of India’s Partition: The Revisionist Perspective,” in
Mushirul Hasan, ed.: India’s Partition: Process, Strategy and Mobilization (New Delhi:
Oxford, 1993), p.125.
2. ibid.
3. ibid., p.104.
4. c.f. R.J. Moore, “Jinnah and the Pakistan Demand,” in Hasan, ed. India’s Partition,
ibid., pp. 191-194.
5. For the sake of brevity, the anthologies are cited in parentheses as follows: stories in
Bhalla’s collection begin are designated with B, followed by the number 1, 2 or 3, indicating
the volume; stories in Hasan’s collection are designated by H, likewise followed
by the number of the volume; stories from Cowasjee and Duggal’s collection are designated
6. Bhalla deserves some reproval for his review of Hasan’s collection, “Thirsty Spears
and the Names of Gods,” which appeared in the Indian Review of Books, 16 November-
15 December 1995. Bhalla attacks Hasan as irresponsible for truncating the text of
“Black Margins” without explanation. However, Bhalla in his own collection abridges
the text far more drastically than Hasan, and not only fails to give an explanation, but
does not even indicate that the two short pieces, which he presents as separate works, are
in any way connected. It is not that Bhalla is irresponsible in taking editorial license with
Manto’s original, but in attacking Hasan’s license he shows a janus-face.