Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV
Traditional history stockpiles bitter memories of the past which slush hatred and create divisions. Literature has a leading edge over traditional history as the creative powers of writers have always invested on tales of love, compassion and friendship. Synchronically, literature mirrors ‘human frailties’ and most of the times, these frailties are routed towards regret and purgation. En masse, the canvas of literature never presents a woebegone world, the one beyond repair. Amos Oz, the Jewish writer underscores the import of literary “remedial insights” (Partitions, 83) into the past, to counter half-truths of hatred by asserting exemplars of ‘great affinity and empathy.’
Going by the Nietzschean commandment, shared in his seminal work, The Use and Abuse of History: a rich blend of the unhistorical, the historical and the super-historical, can serve as medicant to the “disease of history” (Nietzsche 43). Nietzsche defines the “disease of history,” as the tendency of those in power to control history by suppressing the voices of the vanquished. The unhistorical are the memory narratives laid in the stirrings of human heart, and expressed in oral-histories, which owing to their amnesiac tendencies are bound to be lost if not timely preserved. The historical is conventional history; and the super historical which integrates in, the vast regimes of literature and other allied arts has a sense of cultural vision.
The tour de force of the novel, Kitne Pakistan (2000), written by Kamleshwar in Hindi and translated as Partitions (2006) in English by Ameena Kazi Ansari, is to patron humanitarian concerns by liquidating all the dissident and belligerent constraints of the world torn asunder. The novel mourns over the unnecessary divisions and myriad segments which continue to fissure mankind; and the title of the novel is suggestive of the presence of such chasms and cracks in the various cultures from the days of the Sumerian hero, Gilgamesh to the latest demolition of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, India. The perpetrators guilty of wrecking injustice, oppression and dislocation are questioned and cross-examined in the “people’s court” set up in the novel. Mughal Emperors Babar and Aurangzeb, Spanish adventurer Hernando Cortez, Lord Mountbatten, Adolf Hitler, and Saddam Hussein invite ‘contempt of court’ on charges of creating countless fractured nations.
The unnamed narrator-protagonist of the novel, called ‘adeeb’ which literally means a litterateur or poet, in the role of an ‘arbiter for suffering humanity,’ sifts and scans through some first-hand accounts of the victims of man’s brutality, from the killing fields of Kurukshetra to Kargil and Hiroshima to Bosnia. Adeeb’s scholarly court as the “court of humanity” is open to all victims of human tyranny unlike the other courts endorsed by the “cowardly, paralysed legal system” (Partitions, 87).
Another likeable character of the novel, the ‘ashruvaid’ is an old man who collects and analyses the tears of the oppressed, destitute and those pushed untimely into the throes of death. Behind his pursuit of studying man’s sufferings, lies his urge to efface pain and destitution from the face of earth. Ashruvaid approaches adeeb’s court and insists on collecting the litterateur’s tears and analyse them. He makes clear his motives to adeeb: “We have to find a way of making life take precedence over death. Your tears are needed to help achieve this end. Tears alone can breathe life into mere existence” (17). During the period of colonialism, when the colonial masters in order to access cheap labour, resorted to forcibly transporting slaves from Africa and Asia, ‘ashruvaid’ starts collecting the perspiration of the slaves and labourers. The plight of these ‘chained beings’ is brought out in a detailed way in the novel.
And post-nuclear testing in Pokhran, India, followed by the same at Chagai, Pakistan, the ‘ashruvaid’ engages himself in yet another human cause of collecting “shattered fragments of dreams” ( Partitions, 363) of mankind. On a hopeful note, ‘ashruvaid’ salvages these dreams from dying eyes and renders them to the living eyes, keeping alive his faith to see these dreams being fulfilled. The novel illustrates the effect of “the toxic ashes of the atomic testing” (366) on nature. Adeeb’s heart bleeds at the infliction these atomic tests caused to the peacocks of Pokhran region, pushing them to the limits of near extinction. He could visualize similar fate for the honeybees in the palms of Chagai. One can assess from it the immense havoc the nuclear weapons can unleash, if God forbid, they are targeted at the human lot:
Buddha Purnima-11 May 1998. Three forty-five p.m. The arteries of the desert had burst open. The ground had trembled. Nine hundred feet below the surface, in the womb of Pokhran, three explosions had occurred. The wind had dropped as the temperature shot up to ten lakh degrees, matching the heat of the sun. Below the sands, hundreds of thousands of tons of rocky cliff had crumbled, melted and turned into clouds of vapours. A mile- long stretch of sand had risen like a gigantic mushroom cloud and lay suspended over the desert.
The adeeb had suffered another heart attack. (Partitions 362)
In the novel, love comes as an antithesis to all the destructive and divisive manoeuvrings of man, when lovers transcend the narrow confines of religious identities, in their quest to find fulfilment beyond all boundaries. The novel presents many tales of human love, which evolve during the times of bloody massacres that ensued amidst the subcontinent’s Partition in 1947. But unfortunately all of these promising relationships get consumed in the fury of partition riots and other such meaningless conflicts. The first love story that one comes across in the novel is that of Vidya and the litterateur ‘adeeb.’ Partition creates a distance between the two, abducted and raped by her co-religionists during the partition; Vidya is rescued and escorted by a Muslim family during the partition riots.
The author avers that, “sometimes women were raped by members of their own religious community and given shelter by the other religious community” (Bhalla, Partition Dialogues, 215). This proclaims how the riots of partition created an opportunity for men to commit sexual atrocities on women and cloak it under the garb of religion. There in Pakistan, Vidya converts to Islam, is married to a Muslim, Nadeem Khan and is baptised as Parveen Sultana, fondly called as ‘Pari.’ Her son ‘Pervez’ comes to India as a Pakistani diplomat; this is how she happens to meet ‘adeeb’ again and for the last time towards the end of the novel. But there is nothing they can do about their relationship at that stage except to reminiscise their bygone days and be nostalgic about them.
Forlorn and soaked deeply in her memories, the adeeb often weaves his own castle of dreams centered around her. Her memories and dreams bring in some respite in the otherwise humdrum life of the adeeb. These escapades of adeeb also entail the readers towards an awareness of how human entrapments curtailed many relationships from blossoming, leaving the lovers in the lurch of unrequitedness.
The novel hitches in yet another love story of Buta Singh- an illiterate farmer and Zainab- a young Muslim girl. Love evolves between the two during the times of bloody massacres that ensued amidst the subcontinent’s partition in 1947. Pursued by a savage in the guise of man, Zainab is sheltered by Buta Singh. Buta Singh earnestly relinquishes his hard-earned savings in the kitty of Zainab’s pursuer and liberates her from his clutches. A brief excerpt from the novel speaks volumes about Buta Singh’s empathy and uprightness: “So what if the borders of Hindustan and Pakistan have been demarcated? The honour of women cannot be apportioned to any particular side because of the Hindu-Mussalman divide!” (Partitions 24).
The village elders advise Buta Singh to marry her as living together outside marriage was not an acceptable social norm at that time. With a mutual consent both get united in matrimony. This news disturbs Buta Singh’s three elder brothers who were always keen on laying their hands on Buta’s share of land. God showered his benediction on Buta and Zainab and blessed them with a beautiful girl. The couple named her Tanvir Kaur. Adeeb celebrates their love in glowing terms, and implores his assistant, Mahmood to let him narrate this story with “all its nuances of searing beauty and pain” (Partitions 321). He fervently wishes to immortalise this love story for centuries to come, by conferring on it the “aesthetic form of an epic poem” (321). An excerpt from the text is presented here in avowal of adeeb’s endeavour to narrate this passionate story in an exuberant manner: “They alone had dared to eat the apple of love. But for such events, love would never have flourished and the world’s gutters would have been choked with the bubbling blood of lust and hatred” (320).
But this saga of love too turns out to be one of sacrifice due to man’s cruelty. As per an agreement between the governments of the twin nations-India and Pakistan, abducted and abandoned women on either side of the border during the upheaval of partition are retrieved by the various refugee camps before being handed over to the next of their kiths-and-kins. On Buta Singh’s nephew’s information Zainab was handed over to her people in Pakistan. To get her back Buta Singh converted to Islam and became Jamil Ahmed and Tanvir Kaur becomes Sultana. They both illegally enter Pakistan by crossing the border in Rajasthan. Despite all these hardships, Zainab’s parents and Pakistani court refuses to permit Zainab to join back her loving family. Heartbroken Buta commits suicide by jumping onto the tracks with Sultana in his arms. Adeeb’s court mourns over this colossal loss of hope with yet another tale of human love sacrificed at the altar of man-made partitions.
Inspired from the Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2100 BC), the novel’s guiding force and talisman is the mythical love story of Runa- the beautiful devadasi and Enkidu- a brutal beast with divine powers. Love fructifies between the two when, Gilgamesh-the Sumerian hero of the Hittite civilization sets out on his mission to not only overcome pain and privation, but also to vanquish death itself, in his quest to create a better world for his people. This besets a pandemonium amongst the divinities of the various pantheons.
The Sumerian and Babylonian gods and deities are all frightened that if Gilgamesh triumphs over death, the pristine environs of their abode may get polluted. So in compliance with Anu, the Sumerian deity, they send Enkidu to earth in the guise of a human to exterminate Gilgamesh and his plans. Luckily Gilgamesh learns about the conspiracy of the gods. Familiar with the lustful ways of gods, Gilgamesh tries to tackle the beast-man by enticing him with the feminine charm of Runa.
But to the utter dismay of Gilgamesh and the gods, Enkidu and Runa get bridled in passionate love. Even after satisfying his lust, Enkidu remains ever enrapt in Runa’s love. An excerpt from the text articulates this: “More ancient than the history of the pyramids is the saga of human love. It was born when Runa and Enkidu, having gratified their carnal instincts, looked into each other’s eyes and discovered their souls” (28). Love brings a change of heart in Enkidu, and after an initial bout with Gilgamesh, the duo become the best of friends. The gods then send a fearsome bull down to the earth to kill Gilgamesh. Enkidu gets seriously injured by the ferocious beast, as he tries to save his friend Gilgamesh from its lethal attack. Despite Gilgamesh and Runa’s best care and efforts, Enkidu succumbs to his injuries. This is how world’s first love story meets its end due to the machinations of none other than the gods, but not before blessing mankind with the discoveries of love and friendship.
After the passage of many centuries, Gilgamesh still struggles to come back with the antidote to cure death and suffering and to scavenge all the earth’s venom of hatred. But Runa managed to hide in her navel, King Gilgamesh’s eternal and fearless voice, well protected from the reach of gods who were always on a lookout to suppress it. Runa entrusts Gilgamesh’s voice to the care of ‘adeeb’ as she believed that “only a man of knowledge and integrity can keep it alive for centuries to come” (Partitions, 34). Adeeb heartily accepts Runa’s gifts of love, friendship, peace and prosperity on behalf of the entire mankind and infuses Gilgamesh’s voice into his bloodstream.
The metaphoric significance of this episode is to accentuate the role of litterateurs as ‘goodwill ambassadors of humanity.’ The bond that made Runa and Enkidu remain in eternal love with each other and discover spiritual solace is bequeathed to the sensibilities of man, and lives there forever shielded from destruction and desecration, through the innate human goodness, portrayed and promoted vis-a-vis the conduit of good literature.
The novel concludes on an optimistic annotation, a character of the novel, ‘blind Kabir’ like the fifteenth century mystic poet Kabir, with an ektara in his hands, and a bag hung on his shoulder, sets out on a journey of reconstruction. He plans to plant banyan saplings at Pokhran and Chagai both. He is hopeful that “like Shiva, the roots of the banyan can absorb all poisons” (Partitions, 367). The symbol of “bodhi vriksh” is reminiscent of Lord Buddha, and it sends across a message that we can escape ‘the turning wheel’ of life and death by considering all forms of life as sacrosanct, and by triumphing over the vices of greed and hatred.
The novel questions indiscreet human acts of lapse as well as episodes of ‘fall from grace’ of divinities. Kamleshwar, the novelist juxtaposes tales of love and friendship with narratives of man’s barbarity and images of bloodletting and debauchery only to let the readers surmise that love ushers in solace, growth and camaraderie while acrimony amongst races and people breeds distrust, hatred and divisions. Celebrating the literary pursuit of ‘free spiriting’ the world from the slavery of religion with supplanters of love and empathy, nothing sounds more apt to conclude than by taking a leaf from poet Keats’ love letter to Fanny Brawne, penned down on 13 October 1819: “I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion-I have shudder’d at it-I shudder no more- I could be martyr’d for my religion-Love is my religion- I could die for that- I could die for you.” Nonetheless, bards know it well not to limit this revelation to their inner sanctums but to bring it on in the public domain and make it Everyman’s principle of existence.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bhalla, Alok. Partition Dialogues: Memories of a Lost Home. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Kamleshwar.Partitions. Trans. Ameena Kazi Ansari. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2006.
Kamleshwar.Partitions. Trans. Ameena Kazi Ansari. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2006.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Use and Abuse of History. Trans.Adrian Collins. New York: Macmillan, 1957.
Hanson Marilee. “John Keats: Selected Letters.” EnglishHistory.net.N.P. 2003.Web.05 July 2015.
Reviewed by Manjinder Kaur Wratch
She is working for her doctoral degree on Partition literature from University of Jammu. She has actively participated in various national and international conferences and has also contributed more than fifteen research papers for certain critical anthologies and reputed journals-national as well as international. Earlier she has served as Faculty English Language and Literature in many institutes of the country. For her M.Phil dissertation she worked on the translated in English works of the legendary Punjabi and Hindi author, Amrita Pritam.