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The Human Cost Of Partition And The Legacy Of My Grandfather Saadat Hasan Manto

India and Pakistan’s collective burden…

17/08/2017 8:18 AM IST | Updated 17/08/2017 8:18 AM IST
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The ignominy of Partition and its impact continues to reverberate 70 years later. It left traces and imprints that would have a lasting impact on the present and future of both Pakistan and India. The aftermath of it, the stories and tragedies, evoke even today the sorrows and heartfelt pain that were experienced by millions on both sides at the time.

Partition has always raised divisions and given rise to rifts, such is the sensitivity of the topic. This "batwara", as it is called in Urdu, was a catastrophe of gigantic proportions, which has been documented infinitely in these last 70 years. In my knowledge, it was a human earthquake that displaced millions of people and destroyed their homes. It was a mental and psychological trauma which seared millions of minds and left a trail of destruction which still has ramifications today. Such is the controversy Partition generates that people tend to lose their senses and forget a meaningful way of discourse on both sides of the divide.

Manto' writings projected the harsh realities of Partition and the society in which we now live. The intricacies in his writings were touching; his attention to sensitive issues highlighted the greatness of the man.

The British wielded an axe and cut through the various heartlands, dividing areas that had been united for over a thousand years, ravaging the heart of the populace that lived there, Punjab, for example, was divided into East and West, with India getting the former and the latter going to Pakistan. Those who had ancestral bases in the heart of Punjab in Pakistan were suddenly disconnected and deprived of it and vice a versa.

Memories serve as a critical instrument of judgment, but millions of those displaced and disbursed in this massive shift of human population from one place to the other will only share stories of misery and gore. Of course, humanity in some cases may have prevailed, but what raged during that period hasn't been recovered from till now.

Besieged by hatred and animosity, faith and creed broke the barriers of tolerance which had stood tall (besides minor skirmishes) before Partition. The bloodbath that resulted was beyond control. Who could have predicted humans could unleash such savagery and barbarity—everything to this day still is beyond rational explanation.

Even now, the human cost that had to be borne for Partition cannot be learnt or quantified. Too many lives were extinguished in this tragedy and the destitution and devastation partition wrought stayed a poignant reality. Women, in particular, displaced and taken away from their families suffered humiliation, sexual molestation, rape—unspeakable transgressions. Millions lost their homes, many rued the loss of identity and countless others suffered psychological wounds that never healed. Families were left divided, some never to meet again.

The sorrows of this divide alienated people on both sides, hampering the strong friendships and neighbourly ties which existed at the time of Partition. Many left their hearts and belongings behind in the places they lived in, the emotional cost was immense.

Partition is, in my view, among the biggest calamities of the 20th century. For many, it still stays a source of disbelief and abjection. Such a tectonic shift in a matter of days and months gave rise to unpredictable violence that creates aftershocks even today. Those responsible for this reprehensible violence stood on both sides of the divide, and not anyone, in particular, can be blamed.

Those who indulged in violence and killed in the name of faith and identity were unfortunately victims themselves, figuratively speaking, as the situation created in the wake of Partition was dire, to say the least. A collective effort of togetherness on part of both nations needs to be considered. There needs to be a realisation that what happened during Partition is a collective burden that has been shared for the last 70 years, and it can't be rectified or the blame laid at any one door anymore.

The question arises—will both Pakistan and India ever rise to the occasion and give hope and peace a chance to thrive? The seeds of optimism only grow when there is tolerance...

Regarding my grandfather's Saadat Hassan Manto's legacy, it is rich and very much alive. For me, growing up as his grandchild didn't strike me until my teenage years, when I realised the magnitude of his works and the far reach they possessed. Having grown up in an environment where the mention of Manto was synonymous with Urdu short story writing, there was always a question mark in my mind over his writings being very controversial.

I had all the access in the world to his books and was never stopped from reading his works whether in Urdu or the English translations that followed in the early 1990s to early 2000s. Lacking a clear understanding as a youngster, I started reading his stories well into my early 20s. It was then that I realised the genius of the man and the wizardry in his stories.

His writings projected the harsh realities of Partition and the society in which we now live. I felt the intricacies in his writings were touching; his attention to sensitive issues highlighted the greatness of the man. The heartfelt emotions he penned down were dramatic and awakening

I maintain that literature has no dominions and considering that his works have been translated into Japanese, French and last year in Croatian is testimony to their abiding relevance and their power to mesmerise readers around the globe. It gives me immense happiness to know that his stories are being adapted into theatre plays and are the subject of much scholarly research.

Manto has come into the mainstream thanks to the movie made by Sarmad Khoosat in Pakistan, released in 2015, which received critical acclaim across the globe. Now Nandita Das in India is working on a movie, slated to come out sometime early next year, about the extraordinary writer. The depiction of his life and struggles is something which brings mixed emotions but I feel happy to see him being recognised in both Pakistan and India.

Both nations over the course of their 70-year existence never redeemed themselves from the mistakes they committed. The question arises—will both Pakistan and India ever rise to the occasion and give hope and peace a chance to thrive? The seeds of optimism only grow when there is tolerance...

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