“He’s not dead, there is still life left in him.” “I can’t. I am really exhausted.”
Saadat Hasan Manto
Seeing the Channel 4 documentary on the 60th anniversary of the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan revealed once again the travesty and tragedy of an act which served only the privileged on either side. It is extraordinary how the partition has affected generations thereafter. My grandfather searched for my aunt who was separated during the partition and their long walk from Ludhiana to Lahore to a refugee camp. They eventually settled in Toba Tek Singh, not far from Layallpur (now Faisalabad). His relentless faith in searching for her remained steadfast until he found her in 1975 and she immediately recognised him. The reconciliation was joyous and painful “as if my heart had found my body again” is how my grandfather described it.
My Aunt Anwer on the left, Mum in the middle & Bali my Uncle to the right. Ludhiana Jan 1947
Compared to my mother’s life, married at age 13 and travelled to Kenya to be with my father, my aunt’s experience of survival and a troubled initial integration back into the family often brought the partition back into sharp focus for her. She grew up in an orphanage and trained as a nurse. She met and married a man of her own choice. She eventually left Pakistan with her husband and settled in Germany. She seldom wants to talk about her experience preferring to forget about it – her life is still hard but it’s full of joy and love. When my grandmother was alive and I visited Pakistan, she would insist that we go to the border and see the lowering of the flag ceremony and exchange of guards. “The Peacocks are at it again” would be her comment. She always had a special place to sit where tea would be brought over and sweetmeat shared between the Pakistani and Indian officials which we would also share. Following the ritual with her, we would then go and find a spot where we could be in close proximity of the Indian side and the people. She would then start her exchange: “There is no difference between us – we look the same and we are from the same earth” and the Indian side would respond likewise. The chat would turn into an hour, then two, she had more strength then I although she was nearing her mid-70’s. She would end her conversation with “Jinnah and Nehru did nothing for us, all they wanted was power.” Her dreams of unity were only dreams and she knew that. In the end, her desire was for absolute peace where the two countries could live side by side “like intelligent adults and not insane carnivorous children”.
How strange 60 years later, the events of August 1947 resonates amongst us outside of the Indian sub-continent. I am grateful to her and my mother for giving me such a rich education into our history, literature and poetry. Something that is so sadly lacking in the younger generations here, who know very little about the history of England let alone the Indian sub-continent and are hell bent on seeing it through ethnic and religious differences.
Seeing the documentary brought my mother and grandmother back to me. I hadn’t thought of my aunt for sometime and I fell asleep with her in mind, imagery of the partition came from the documentary kept on conjuring up passages from Manto’s various writings. The partition of India is so well documented, and for me the work of Manto is so revelatory that it leaves you speechless. I have a deep admiration for his work and also because my family settled in Toba Tek Singh, a place he made famous with a short story about a mental institution and it’s predicament due to the line drawn through Panjab. Manto was important then and he is still relevant today. I would like to share another short sketch by Manto with you, brilliant and succinct; the sketch reveals a particular character trait with a pure genius of observation that Manto possessed.
The Benefit of Ignorance
The trigger was pressed and the bullet spun out ill-temperedly. The man leaning through the window doubled over without making a sound. The trigger was pressed a second time. The bullet swished through the air, puncturing the water-carrier’s goatskin. He fell on his face and his blood, mixing with water, began to flow across the road. The trigger was pressed a third time. The bullet missed, embedding itself into a mud wall. The fourth felled an old woman. She did not even scream. The fifth and sixth were wasted. Nobody got killed and nobody got wounded. The marksman looked frustrated, when suddenly a running child appeared on the road. He raised his gun and took aim.
“What are you doing?” his companion asked.
“You are out of bullets.”
“You keep quiet. What does a little child know?”
Saadat Hasan Manto
Both sketches appear in “Partition – Sketches and Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto”. Translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan and published by Viking Penguin Books India 1991.