The Role of Borders and Boundaries in Partition Literature

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  • Topic: Saadat Hasan Manto, Partition of India, Rajinder Singh Bedi
  • Pages : 13 (4253 words )
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  • Published : January 6, 2011
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The Role of Borders and Boundaries in Partition Literature

Such was the magnitude of the devastation wrecked by the Partition of undivided India that it was, and is a mammoth task for writers to deal with it. Historians, for one, talked in aggregates: ten million refugees, two million of them dead, seventy-five thousand women raped and so on and so forth. These statistics fail to impart even a fraction of the enormity of the tragedy that was the Partition. Statistics do not tell us how women must have felt while drowning themselves in wells lest they be abducted by men of the other community. Statistics fail to tell us how for most people the deciding factor in choosing India or Pakistan was not politics or religion but insecurity. Statistics fail to even hint at the trauma of husbands and wives, sons and mothers separated by the Radcliffe line. And the last thing that statistics or historical narratives can ever do is to reflect on identity crises of innocent individuals at a time when identity could be altered by loot and rioting.


The Pakistani poet Harris Khalique is a Kashmiri, but he does not fit what he calls the "Kashmiri stereotype" ó "No pink cheeks or blue eyes, the only brother even darker than I am and the family hardly able to make out the difference between Pahari and Kashmiri." His friends often ask him derisively, "Sir, why donít you mediate between Pakistan and India? Kashmir is your land after all." Khaliqueís reply is that every town in the subcontinent is to him what Toba Tek Singh was to Bishen Singh. "I cannot mediate between India and Pakistan," he writes, "I am an unresolved business of Partition myself. You are right. I am not Kashmiri. I am Kashmir." 1

Another Kashmiri, Saadat Hassan Manto, was so aggrieved by a similar identity crisis that it was, partially if not wholly, responsible for his alcoholism and eventual death about eight years after the Partition. Communal tensions in Bombay and persuasion by his family made him migrate to Pakistan in 1948. By this time, in a life full of ups and downs, he had achieved considerable acclaim and some prosperity for his short stories, radio plays, film scripts and dialogues and as the editor of two Urdu magazines. In Lahore, however, Manto found himself completely disoriented, rootless and, perhaps most of all, unemployed. In the eight years that he lived there, he failed to get a single regular job. Manto had earlier written against communal conflict, and his choice of migrating to Pakistan was impulsive; he must never have thought the Partition would ruin him just when his life seemed to have achieved some stability. No wonder then that his post-í48 stories often question the idea of nationality ("Toba Tek Singh"2 ) and the effects of the Partition on individuals ("Black Margins"3 ).

"Toba Tek Singh" is an outstanding work of Manto that poignantly describes the individualís identity crisis. Set in a madhouse the story uses madness as a metaphor for sanity. The ambiguity of nationhood is expressed when we are told that one madman got "caught up in this whole confusion of Pakistan and Hindustan and Hindustan and Pakistan that he ended up considerably madder than before". The madmen in the Lahore asylum are a microcosm of society, through them all sections of society are satirised, and amidst them is Bishen Singh, who wants to live in neither Hindustan nor Pakistan. Hindustan and Pakistan are identities that have been deliberately created and constructed and Bishen Singh successfully resists all attempts for any such identity to be thrust upon him. He wants to go back to Toba Tek Singh, the village where he was born, which is his natural identity. Manto therefore is questioning not just the two-nation theory but also the very idea of nationhood as the pivotal basis of identity. Bishen Singh would rather die in no manís land than make a choice between Hindustan and Pakistan.

Arjun Mahey, in his paper "Partition Narratives: Some...
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