West indian literature

Score literature: the hope of another tomorrow

Partition literature helps us make sense of one of the most traumatic events in the country’s history so that we don’t repeat a similar catastrophe here and now.

1947, the year that was stained with blood everywhere and whose every whisper sends images of violence, death and heartache into our minds, whether we witnessed it firsthand or not. It is the year of the Partition and the disintegration of a nation into two and, later, into three. The partition of India which led to the creation of first Pakistan and then Bangladesh is one of the most traumatic events in the history of the subcontinent. It left millions displaced, injured and murdered. So much so that the effects of its devastation are still visible today, 75 years later, as we find ourselves in the same old predicament of religious polarization and inhuman discrimination.

Therefore, like any great event in history that has had indelible repercussions, the score has also inspired many works of incredible literature that chronicle the cataclysmic event from different sides of the border. From non-fiction accounts like Midnight Furies by Nisid Hajari and The vestiges of a separation by Aanchal Malhotra to works of fiction like Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh Pinjar by Amrita Pritam and frozen candy, also known as Break India, by Bapsi Sidhwa , The partition literature has helped generations make sense of a period in the history of the subcontinent that is quite difficult to grasp in its entirety. Given the enduring nature of this literature, it gave ordinary people the ability to read and recognize destruction across time and space and the causes that led to it. It reminds us of the human failings and the frailty of human conscience that are at the root of such disastrous events.

Some of the best partition literature is often an amalgamation of history, politics, fact, and a bit of fiction. A trait, however, even more important is the act of humanizing this heartbreaking tragedy. For a tragedy as catastrophic as the Partition, it is most often true that lives become numbers and losses become statistics. However, literature allows the freedom to convert these numbers into feelings and the numbers into nuanced details that bring to life the singular experiences of grief, loss and pain that people went through during this dark time.

On the way from Balloki (currently in Pakistan) to India during the partition in 1947.

On the way from Balloki (currently in Pakistan) to India during the partition in 1947. | Photo credit: The Hindu Photographic Archives

Such literature works collectively to transcend the unanimous, one-dimensional narrative taught to us by the state and textbooks. Looking at tragedy from different angles and perspectives, score literature depicts the plurality of singular experiences and how humanity is often plagued by the same misfortunes over and over again. While dwelling on the discourse of religion, caste, color and discrimination, such stories implore us to look at our past in order to understand our present and manifest a better future.

There is an exceptional paragraph in Khushwant Singh Train to Pakistan, which has so much truth that it almost seems bizarre: India is constipated with a lot of humbug. Take religion. For the Hindu, this means little except caste and the protection of cows. For the Muslim, circumcision and kosher meat. For Sikhs, long hair and hatred of Muslims. For the Christian, Hinduism with a sola topee. For the Parsi, adoration of fire and feeding of vultures. Ethics, which should be the core of a religious code, has been carefully removed.

If one were to read this without the context of the Score, would these words make as much sense? Even 75 years later, we haven’t overcome our differences and learned what it means to let love prevail, that’s why we must read and re-read stories about India’s partition and see that hate takes us nowhere. If we learn nothing from history, it is very likely that it will repeat itself.

Take for example the 1990 exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. Look around you and one can see how this is happening again as the nation remains silent. We may have promoted a propaganda film on the same subject and heckled it, but we still haven’t learned what we needed to learn. History is repeating itself before our eyes, but we still fail to see that we need to assess ourselves today through the prism of yesterday in the hope of a better tomorrow. Otherwise, we will continue to go around in circles, filled with sorrow, hatred and discouragement.

The recent monumental victory of the International Booker Prize of sand tomb by Geetanjali Shree (translated by Daisy Rockwell) is another heartbreaking story about partition, where an 80-year-old woman decides to travel to Pakistan in order to cope and deal with the trauma of partition. The book has now joined the panoply of score stories that explore the colossal migration and its emotional and tangible consequences.

There’s a reason why even after all these years writers are still writing about the Score and readers are still reading it. We live in an ever-changing civilization and to understand the very concepts of culture, culture and society, it is vital that we decipher it from past experiences. That’s why we’re returning to one of the bloodiest times in history, to see what was wrong and to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Through literature, we make sense of the multilevel dynamics and semantics not only of the event in question, but also of our present and future.

Our textbooks and classrooms haven’t taught us to weigh emotions and measure grief, but prose and poetry have the power to make those heartbeats and heartbreaks palpable. It illuminates the flaws in our existence by commenting on rape and murder, religion and race, hysteria and mass angst, distance and belonging, inequality and gender, life and the death. It makes us ask the right questions so that when the situation arises, we don’t run out of answers as we struggle to find solutions. He holds our hand and urges us to look beyond the assortment of facts and see the tears, sweat and blood that still stain our cards and our hearts.

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