It has been sixty-eight years since the partition of India but the wounds of that tragedy still plague people in India and Pakistan. With each passing year, the number of partition survivors dwindles but the spectre of partition stays alive and well. Keeping the political aspect of partition aside, the personal costs of partition were tremendous and left long-lasting memories of either brutality, indifference or kindness among the survivors. Historians and sociologists have yet to determine the factors that prompted millions of people to leave their homes and depart for an unknown land. Political scientists still disagree about who was to ‘blame’ for the unprecedented violence that engulfed the subcontinent before and after partition. One undisputed fact is that partition was a traumatic experience for those who left, were left behind or decided to stay.
Saadat Hasan Manto, master of short stories in Urdu, encapsulated the violence surrounding partition in the following words, “In this land, once called India, such rivers of blood have flowed over the past few months that even the heavens are bewildered. Blood and steel, war and musket, are not new to human history. Adam’s children have always taken an interest in these games. But there is no example anywhere in the colourful stories of mankind of the game that was played out recently.” Partition and horrors associated with the event were discussed in length through various literary mediums in the post-partition era on both sides of the divide. Manto, Qurratulain Hyder, Abdullah Hussain and many other authors did their best literary work in the shadow of partition.
The newly formed countries used partition in different contexts through their textbooks. The Indian version blamed Muslim politicians of conspiring to break up India, leading to partition. Pakistani version blamed the conniving Hindus for conspiring with the British and denying equal shares of money and land (Kashmir, Hyderabad) during the separation. It took almost four decades after partition for Indian textbooks to change their focus from political to personal histories of partition. Pakistan, on the other hand, continues to use the tools of hatred to keep the flame of nationalism alive. The state of Pakistan has failed to provide any services to its citizens and to cover those deficiencies up, an overdose of nationalist rhetoric (hot air?) is all that the state has to offer its denizens.
According to Clinical Psychology, victims of trauma need ‘closure’ on their path of recovery. No efforts have been done by either the Indian or Pakistani government of offering this ‘closure’ to survivors of Partition. For a few years in the last decade, it was made possible to cross the border and visit one’s former abodes but the reprieve was short-lived. In absence of state intervention, conscientious citizens on both sides of the divide took it upon themselves to collect stories from partition. Excellent initiatives, such as ‘The 1947 Partition Archive’ and Citizens Archive of Pakistan, for collecting oral histories have been started by young Indians and Pakistanis.
Apart from short stories and poetry, cinematic portrayal or theatre can be used to remember the stories of partition. Recently, an Islamabad based theatre group called ‘Theatre Wallay’ collaborated with the US Embassy in Islamabad to present ‘Dagh Dagh Ujala’, story of some survivors of partition and how the tragic event affected their lives. It was initially staged in Islamabad and was performed last week in Lahore. In front of a full house at the HRCP Auditorium, young and skilful actors portrayed the real life stories that involved ordinary citizens and the upheaval in their lives caused by migration.
The play was written entirely by the cast of Theatre Wallay after extensive interviews with partition survivors in Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Chiniot, Rawalpindi and numerous villages in between. The play was directed by David Studwell—who has been a professional actor and teacher for over thirty years in the United States—and co-produced by Kathleen Mulligan, Assistant Professor of Theatre at Ithaca College, New York. The title was borrowed from a famous poem by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who lamented the lack of real freedom even after Partition in his verses. Most members of the cast were amateurs and belonged to diverse professional backgrounds.
It was a masterful, evocative performance by amateur actors who gave life to partition stories. They wonderfully portrayed tragedy, humour, hope, sense of loss and helplessness faced by different people during the course of partition. The show deserves a wider audience and it should be staged in more cities, to educate and inform, and in some cases, to provide much needed ‘closure’. Partition cannot solely be explained by either history or politics. Bringing a personal touch can help future generations understand the horror that was the partition of India and in that regard, ‘Dagh Dagh Ujala’ did the job perfectly. May this avenue be explored further and nationalistic fervour be curbed in our part of the world.