- The Blind Age
Much has been written about the Partition, and the pen does not seem to stop writing. The bruises of the heart are laid bare either in private gatherings or in seminars like the one today. One can say that the cry arises after the laceration, or as the poet Shah Nasir writes,
Go on, oh Nasir, lamenting and beating your breast,Go on imagining,remembering those long, double-braided tresses.
The serpent vanished a long time ago.
Now you have nothingbut the mark of its passingto beat and strike at.1
But this is poetry. When you think about it, the passing referred to in the poem can be regarded as the cruelty of the historical process. But I am not up for getting into an academic debate. All I can contribute are some observations of daily life, along with a few tidbits of stories and tales. Having spoken of the cruelty of the historical process, I am reminded of an event that takes place from time to time in Lahore. In the city’s marketplaces, sitting and displaying their wares are street vendors, sellers of odds and ends, astrologers who tell your fortune by reading your palm or by asking a parrot. In the language of the Municipal Corporation, these people are “encroachments,” and occasionally the Corporation gets it in its head that the number of encroachments has increased. They must be stopped. So, the Corporation’s officers take a few policemen along, hop on a truck, and blindly bulldoze them. The policemen load the encroachers’ accumulated wreckage and garbage into the back of the truck and speed away. The poor vendors, sellers, and astrologers are left weeping and lamenting.
The so-called historical process operates in a similar way. The oppression of history! God save us from it! The historical process arrives like a big machine, blindly bulldozing all that’s in its path. People are left distraught. You cannot pacify or console them by saying, “This is simply what the historical process does. All your crying and lamenting is fruitless; you must accept the decree of history. This is what reason tells us.” We know, however—and Ghalib reminds us of it—that man is not a creature merely of reason: [End Page 226]
It’s only a heart after all, not stone and brick—why wouldn’t it fill with pain?We will weep a thousand times—why would anyone torment us?2
We will have to spend our days in crying and lamenting. Future generations will remember and accept it as the necessity of history. Their historians will attempt to analyze the events from our time and age objectively. On the other hand, the perspectives of today’s historians—the analysts, poets, and fiction writers—are all afflicted by an emotional trauma. It has been more than a half-century since the traumatic events, but the effects have not vanished.
I recall a similar event from the last century. As a result of the Russian Revolution, how many people migrated from their homeland? Or would it be more accurate to ask how many people barely escaped with their lives? A number of writers were among those who escaped. One of them was a fiction writer who has been a great favorite of mine for a long time. Under my arm, I used to carry around one of his books, Dark Avenues. The writer is Ivan Bunin. Like us, he was never reconciled with moving away from his homeland. He sat in Paris writing in Russian, his mother tongue. His stories were translated into French and English, and then read around the world. I consider Bunin a much greater writer than we are. And if he could not reconcile himself to a major historical event, then compared to him, you and I are just radishes in somebody’s field.
I had intended to speak to you about something else, but got sidetracked into this rigmarole—the rigmarole of history. One needs a certain frame of mind to speak about it. As a writer, I am but a small fish in the large pond of...