Why Partition of India still awaits a conscientious litterateur

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Why partition of india still awaits a conscientious litterateur

Partition of India

the latest tech news, global tech news daily, tech news today, startups, usa tech, asia tech, china tech, eu tech, global tech, in-depth electronics reviews, 24h tech news, 24h tech news, top mobile apps, tech news daily, gaming hardware, big tech news, useful technology tips, expert interviews, reporting on the business of technology, venture capital funding, programing language

Leon Uris is a name largely unfamiliar to both the millennial and the woke “generation”. But even on the anvil of the 1990s — especially in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR followed by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait — Uris was quite a force to reckon with in the annals of popular novelists. But the work that flung him overnight into literary superstardom still remains the landmark Exodus, published in 1958. It is undoubtedly a classic in that genre.

Speaking in 1959 about the motive and inspiration that impelled him to write the work and the extreme reactions it elicited, Uris said: “There is a whole school of American Jewish writers who spend their time damning their fathers, hating their mothers, wringing their hands and wondering why they were born. This isn’t art or literature. It’s psychiatry. These writers are professional apologists. Every year you find one of their works on the best-seller list. Their work is obnoxious and makes me sick to my stomach. I wrote Exodus because I was just sick of apologizing — or feeling that it was necessary to apologise.”

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And now, 63 years since, Leon Uris’ lambast of defiant courage in the face of such widespread pusillanimity endures both as a beacon of light and as an eternal reminder that truth has few friends. His classic Exodus is still relevant not only because of Uris’ abiding conviction in Israel and the Jewish cause but because it is also a contemporary showcase of that other truth: that literature (or generally speaking, art) is an intensely powerful — and in many cases, an unerring key to understanding history, civilisation, and culture in the profoundest sense: through real people.

We find a deeply philosophical expository echo of the truth of Leon Uris’ words in the preface of SL Bhyrappa’s explosive bestselling literary phenomenon, Aavarana. On another occasion, responding to a question about whether he wasn’t afraid to write such a no-holds-barred novel, Bhyrappa said, “My view of literature is that it is a quest for truth, and if I don’t tell it even now, I think that there will be no meaning for my life as a writer. The freedom of expression that our Constitution guarantees us also includes the freedom to tell the truth.” [Paraphrased]

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This, in my view, is one of the simplest maxims to conquer fear.

Civilisational apologia as literature

On the plane of pure passion, the lament of the righteous anger of Leon Uris applies 100 per cent to the corpus of literature churned out in independent India about a definitive epoch in its long history: Partition of Bharatavarsha. Partition remains one of humankind’s greatest tragedies engineered by the combined forces of two Abrahamisms. But literary works based on Partition written in India by Indians exemplify Leon Uris’ description: an agglomeration of textual apologia and an attempt to induce civilisational amnesia in the present tense.

A brief contrast of the global impact of Exodus brilliantly illustrates the existential grand canyon of post-Independence literary shame in India. Here are a few quotes:

“Two months after the tenth anniversary a novel was published in America that changed the public perception of Israel and the Jews. Exodus by the Jewish US ex-marine Leon Uris became an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest bestseller in the United States since Gone with the Wind. Both the novel and the subsequent movie thrust Israel into the lives of millions, and with it initiated a new sympathy for the young country.” [Jill Hamilton: God, Guns and Israel]

“[Exodus is] an antidote to the public silence of American Jews… Something fundamental changed among American Jews as a result of the book.” [Mathew Silver]

“[The effect of Exodus] is so extraordinary that I wanted to go and fight for Israel, even die, if need be, for Israel. Israel spoke to the need I had as a young black man for a place where I could be free of being an object of hatred. I did not wish I were Jewish, but was glad that Jews had a land of their own, even if blacks didn’t.” [Julius Lester]

However, which literary work immediately strikes our memory when Partition is mentioned? Until recently, it was the Nehru dynasty-cupbearer, Khushwant Singh’s eminent apologia titled Train to Pakistan. This pamphlet, disguised as literature, stood unchallenged for decades as the unquestionable Quran of the Nehruvian literary establishment. Then there is Qurratulain Hyder’s voluminous Urdu novel, Aag ka Dariya (River of Fire), ambitious in scope but expectedly ‘secular’ in its tenor and outcome. The fact that the author chooses the fall of the Nanda dynasty to begin her epic mound of apologetics is quite revelatory.

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Next, we have another Nehruvian court laureate, Yashpal’s Hindi novel, Jhoota Sach (False Truth), which is a communist comrade’s telling of Partition through the tainted spectacles of class warfare. The less said about Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas, the better. But the most recent granddaddy of all Partition “literature” emerging from India is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which does have some flashes of honesty but is clearly tailored to the former colonial master’s sensibilities. The Booker Prize it received is the best proof of this.

The near-unanimous theme, the inescapable conclusion of all these books is this: no one person or one community is to blame for the Partition. This is a convenient fraud of blaming the invisible “system” for the crimes committed by the actors helming the system and absolving them of their guilt. Taking the line propagated by all such litterateurs, it appears that all of humanity in India spontaneously decided to voluntarily plunge into murderous insanity thanks to the actions or provocations of this amorphous “system”.

Aesthetics and Nehruvian politics

In purely aesthetic terms, a work of literature should not have a “conclusion” because life, the fount of literature, is a continuum, not a conclusion.

This sort of “literature,” as Uris correctly noted, makes us sick. It distorts because it prevaricates. But lest I be accused of partiality or bias, there is a handy test to determine the true mettle of creative literature on the Partition of India that appeared after independence: verify the kind of awards the authors received and the general tenor of reviews of such books. An overwhelming majority of these authors — as noted above — swore allegiance to the Nehruvian establishment.

While I am no fan of prescriptive literature, it must be said that when the author chooses a contemporary theme, honesty, and not audience, must drive the work. Creative liberty is not an excuse for falsehood. Interpretation cannot become a woolen blanket to conceal evasiveness.

As a historical event, the Partition of Bharatavarsha was the savage triumph of virulent Islamic fanaticism which had lost its imperial power but never stopped its grisly quest for reclaiming that power which is needed to sustain this fanaticism. RC Majumdar who wrote the most authentic history of the Indian freedom struggle minces no words to describe the phenomenon: “Jinnah put up a brave fight. It was, however, a fight not for the freedom of India…but for the freedom of the Muslims from the tyrannical yoke of the Hindus, as he put it. He won the fight; the cult of violence decided the issue…there is no doubt that the creation of Pakistan was the triumph of violence… Whatever Hindus might think of Jinnah, he has secured a high place in the history of the Muslim nation, a term at which we can hardly cavil after the foundation of Pakistan. He carried to its logical consummation the work that was begun by Sir Syed Ahmad.”

Clearly, Islamic fanaticism fractionally reclaimed its former power in the form of Pakistan, a usurped geography named after a religion, and after reclaiming it, set about permanently erasing the historical and sacred markers of this geography.

Where partition literature should begin

Thus, as a theme for a profound literary exploration of Partition, the story should actually begin from the alien Islamic invasions of India, and not the clever-by-half falsehood of Aag ka Dariya which begins with the downfall of the Nanda dynasty. Or, if the author is untalented or lacks this sort of sweeping erudition, the story can begin with the death of Aurangzeb because the modern roots of the Partition, most visibly, were planted during that period. One branch of that poisonous tree birthed and sustained by those roots is now known as Pakistan. And over the last decade, we notice other trunks of the same tree on our TV “debates” where assorted Mullahs and Imams unapologetically declare that Mahmud of Ghazni and Aurangzeb are the true heroes of Islam in India.

In many ways, these 75 years after the Partition of Bharatavarsha provide a fertile ground for not only a dispassionate literary exploration of the epochal tragedy but a virgin field for truth-tellers, especially those who are genuinely disgusted with phoney passages masquerading as profound literature. Here is a sample. “The Indo-Muslim lifestyle is made up of the Persian-Turki-Mughal and regional Rajput Hindu cultures. So, what is this Indian-ness which the Muslim League has started questioning? Could there be an alternate India? [Aag ka Darya]

In the Sanatana tradition, poets and litterateurs are seated on the same high pedestal as the rishis. Partition is both an overwhelming invitation to and a far-reaching challenge for present-day creative writers to test for themselves, excavate their conscience and see how best they can elevate themselves to this high, rishi-pedestal.

As recently as 2007, Bhyrappa pioneered this conscientious path with Aavarana. Even if a tenth of that summit is reached, it would be nothing short of path-breaking in the present era of aridity in the field of creative fiction. A decade and a half has elapsed since that masterpiece was published. The Partition of India awaits a similarly gifted pen to reveal itself.

The author is founder and chief editor, ‘The Dharma Dispatch’. Views expressed are personal.

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