Explained: Score Literature and the Steady Rise of Women’s Voices in It
Tomb of Sand recently made history by becoming the first Hindi novel to win the 2022 International Booker Prize. Written by Geetanjali Shree, it was translated into English by Daisy Rockwell, with the two sharing the award. Originally published in Hindi as Ret Samadhi, the novel tells the story of an 80-year-old widow who decides to travel to Pakistan and deal with the trauma of partition.
Tomb of Sand has now joined the wide array of female voices in sheet music literature that chronicles the great migration and its human cost.
What is score literature?
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The partition, which in 1947 resulted in the creation of India and Pakistan (Pakistan would later be divided in 1971, East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh), remains one of the most traumatic events in the history of the subcontinent. Millions of people were displaced and, according to some estimates, more than a million lost their lives.
Partition literature refers to writings that chronicle and explore the event, from all sides of borders. It includes non-fiction and fictional accounts. Today, score literature is studied in some Indian universities either through a specific article or through related texts in other articles.
Why is the literature on partition relevant?
The repercussions of the August 1947 Partition are still being felt today. It uprooted millions of people and impacted life and demographics in different parts of Punjab, Bengal, Sindh to Tripua and Delhi among others. Different communities have been affected in different ways, depending on their social and economic position in society, caste, gender and religion. It is not possible that the only official accounts of Partition contain this wide range of experiences.
In their essay ‘Speaking for Themselves: Partition History, Women’s History’, Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin said, “Official memory, after all, is just one memory among many”.
Score literature plays its part in bringing out the many truths that were involved, especially from the marginalized perspective.
According to Dr Devjani Ray, Associate Professor at Miranda House, University of Delhi, reading the literature on partition helps us “rethink our positions” and offers a chance to engage more deeply with our past.
Why are women’s voices in sheet music important?
Score literature was largely dominated by male writers until the 1990s. Prior to that, even fiction that spoke of women’s experiences often passed through the male gaze such as Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story “Khol Do” (“Open- the”) and the novel by Narendranath Mitra Jaiba (The Biological).
That’s not to say the women hadn’t written about the event up until then. Novels like Epar Ganga Opar Ganga (1968) by Jyotirmoyee Devi, which was translated as The River Churning, dealt with the female experience of partition, which involved sexual violence, forced conversions and, in many cases, the rejection of their own communities.
In fact, one of the most enduring literary pieces on the score is Amrita Pritam’s Punjabi poem “Aaj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu (Today I invoke Waris Shah)”.
From the 1990s, women’s voices increased in the writing of the score. Urvashi Butalia was instrumental in archiving the oral histories of women who experienced the event. She also documented how it affected children and Scheduled Castes.
Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Ice Candy Man (1992) offered a glimpse of post-Partition Pakistan and its anxieties and flaws through the eyes of a child.
Since then, we have had authors like Sunanda Sikdar, whose post-Partition memoir Doyamoyeer Kotha (translated into English as A Life Long Ago) has been widely acclaimed.
Another example is Pakistani historian Anam Zakaria, who has written two books on partition in the Indian subcontinent: The Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians (2015) and 1971: A People’s History from Bangladesh , Pakistan and India (2019 ).
According to Ray, due to an increase in translations in recent years, women who had primarily written in their native language have been discovered by English-speaking audiences.
Pakistani author Khadija Mastoor’s Urdu novel Aangan, which is considered a seminal work of sheet music literature, was first translated as The Inner Courtyard by Neelam Hussain in 2001, then as The Women’s Courtyard by Daisy Rockwell in 2018.
This year, Daisy Rockwell shared the International Booker Prize with Geetanjali Shree for Tomb of Sand.
Rockwell also translated Hindi author Krishna Sobti’s Gujarat Pakistan Se Gujarat Hindustan into English as A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There in 2019, which offers insight into the events leading up to the partition through a feminist lens.
Indian Urdu language author Qurratulain Hyder’s novels have also become a part of contemporary culture due to their English translations.
Aag Ka Darya and Aakhir-e-shab Ke Hamsafar, which have been translated into River of Fire and Fireflies in the Mist respectively by Hyder herself, explore the history of the subcontinent and how it was divided the way he was .