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1 Prelude MantoandPartition 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 colorful stories of mankind of the game that was played out recently.1 Shocked by the catastrophic impact of India’s partition in 1947, Saadat Hasan Manto (1912–­ 1955), the greatest Urdu short story writer of the twentieth century, marveled at the stern calmness with which the British had rent asunder the subcontinent’s unity at the moment of decolonization. Even the coolest of Indian minds had no time to think. Those renowned for statesmanship, acumen, and farsightedness were left blinking their eyes. Human beings had instituted rules against murder and mayhem in order to distinguish themselves from beasts of prey. None was observed in the murderous orgy that shook India to the core at the dawn of indepen- 2 Prelude dence. “Now before our eyes lie dried tracks of blood, cut up human parts, charred faces, mangled necks, terrified people, looted houses, burned fields, mountains of rubble, and overflowing hospitals. We are free. Hindustan is free. Pakistan is free, and we are walking the desolate streets naked without any possessions in utter distress.” Food was scarce and essential commodities were expensive. There was famine. Diseases were spreading. There was no fire in the winter and no water in the summer. The earth was scorched; the skies had receded. Everyone was busy trying to tackle the myriad social problems arising from India’s division and the creation of Pakistan. But there was a great deal of noise and very little actual work.2 These observations about the depressing aftershocks of partition have a resonance well beyond India. The end of modern colonial empires in the twentieth century, more often then not, has been accompanied by cataclysmic events of partition , civil war, or balkanization. This general tendency can be gleaned from the social and political processes set off by British decolonization in not just India but also Ireland and Palestine. These decisions to divide and quit were taken in the absence of any agreement on power-­sharing arrangements among different claimants to the imperial mantle, resulting in unprecedented and tragic violence at the time of independence , as well as a long aftermath of war and conflict. Justified as a necessary evil to avert greater unrest and violence, partition has been an uncertain instrument of conflict management and a veritable barrier to conflict resolution. The destabilizing effects of partition have been writ large on the politics of Ireland, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Palestine, with no respite in sight. Whatever the specific calculations and compulsions of the main political actors, the dislocations 3 Manto and Partition and disruptions of partition were ultimately borne by ordinary and mostly innocent men, women, and children. Poets, creative writers, artists, and filmmakers have captured the pity of partition—­ quite as much as the pity of war—­ for defenseless people far more effectively than have academic historians bound by their disciplinary conventions. A historical portrayal of the human tragedy that was India’s partition through an innovative exploration of stories, memories , and histories can creatively trespass across the border between fictional and historical narratives. The life and literature of Saadat Hasan Manto form a particularly good point of reference. He is best known internationally for his partition stories, notably “Toba Tek Singh,” in which the non-­ Muslim patients of a mental asylum in Lahore agitatedly await relocation to India because of their religious affiliation.3 Portraying the inmates to be of sounder mind than those making the decisions for their removal, Manto deftly questioned the wisdom of partition and the sheer madness it had let loose. His partition stories were based on information gleaned from visits to refugee camps and what he learned about the plight of fleeing humanity as he sat in newspaper offices, coffeehouses, and smoke-­ filled bars. Amidst the darkening shadows of criminality , avarice, and lust, he plumbed the psychological depths of his characters in search of some residual goodness that could help restore faith in human beings. An imaginative inquiry into Manto’s personal and literary biography enables an expansion of the historiographical apparatus deployed thus far in explaining the causes and narrating the experiences of partition. India’s partition along ostensibly religious lines in 1947 is...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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