Friday, August 17, 2007

Two months after the last post, I'm back to the blog.

Since the last time I posted, I went on a very enjoyable trip to Amsterdam and the United States of America, from where I came back looking like a ball. I have attempted (with partial success) to lose some weight since then.

The last two months have continued in the usual way (Read: Deadly boring) in NALSAR. Nothing of any consequence has happened, except for my ending a few friendships and making a few great friends. As a friend of mine used to say, Ah, well, such is life. In other assorted news, I just came back to Hyderabad from an exciting (and entirely unexpected) trip to Delhi, where I had fun, gorged like a pig, and met old friends- one of whom has shifted to 20 m. away from my house in Delhi.

The reasons for this post are actually 2. I have just been given my first birthday gift of the year- an anthology of Progressive Urdu Poetry- a beautiful collection, and one that does not- thankfully- consider film songs outside its ambit. From Ghalib to Gapuchi Gapuchi Gam Gam, its got it all. This seems to be one of the birthday gifts that give one pleasure forever, no matter how often you read them. (Another one of them, The City of Djinns has been blogged about previously.)

The timing of this gift, curiously enough, is very apt. While the rest of India is going ga-ga, in some part justifiably so, over India's 60th independence day, there are many who realise that this is also the 60th independence day of Pakistan. The 17th of August also happens to be the anniversary of a more sombre event- the announcement of the Boundary Award by Cyril Radcliffe. Yes, it has been 60 years since the partition of the Punjab and Bengal.

The book provides a convenient starting point, so to speak, for the contemplation of the horrors of partition, especially in these two provinces. As Josh very aptly put it:
"Apna Gala Kharosh-e-Tarranum Se Phat Gaya,
Talwaar Se Bacha, To Rag-e-gul se Kat Gaya"

The enormity (and here I use the word in its actual sense) of the partition is something that seems difficult to grasp. 14 million people fled both ways- many to lands they had never been to before- where the hardier ones built new lives. The others perished. By the score.

The impact of the partition has been felt in every aspect of life in both countries. Language is a prime example. From being the language of sophistication and the medium of instruction in Northern India, Urdu is now a Muslim language, shunned by the elite, and looked upon as no more than a means of understanding old film songs. On a recent trip to Chandni Chowk, I counted all of 7 signboards in Urdu amidst the innumerable shops.

The very nature of our cities has changed. The cities I come from (both Lahore and Delhi) are a prime example. Delhi is now a Punjabi city. Patel Nagar and Golf Links are more symbolic of its culture than Ballimaran or Daryaganj are. On the other side, Punjabi is all but dead in Lahore, from what I hear and read, and the only remnant of Hindu culture is Basant, which is Hindu only in name. That is a pity, because I believe that one of the greatest things in these towns was the composite culture ( a much-maligned term) of both. People have become more intolerant, and the 'partition between brothers', as hoped for by both Jinnah and Gandhi has not happened. While Radcliffe might have had an inkling of the trouble he would have caused, I'm sure he didn't realise the magnitude of the disaster, as well as the number of people who would shift from one side to another.

Among films and literature about the partition, probably the most poignant would be Amrita Pritam's 'Aj Aakhan Waras Shah Noon"- "I beseech you, Waris Shah, to speak", which was written, more or less impromptu, on a train from Lahore to Delhi. She uses Punjabi legend and mythology to underscore the breaking up of the state- references to Heer and Ranjha, the Charkha, and groups of friends sitting and spinning abound. Ironically, these lines, written by a Sikh woman, served as lyrics in a Pakistani movie named after a Sikh person- Kartar Singh. While there have been a lot of films on the partition as well, very few of them have been able to escape jingoistic nationalism and look at the human tragedy of it. 1947- Earth from India and Khamosh Pani from Pakistan stand out as examples- with a multi-national star-cast, both. In my opinion, Khamosh Pani definitely beats Earth, but that is probably because of the beauty of the storyline, and the fact that I didn't have to compare it to a book.

60 years hence, it seems so difficult to decide whether what happened was good or not. Two new nations were born, amidst crippling discomfort and shortages. For those who were pessimistic about the survival of India, how much more impossible would the existence of Pakistan as a viable political entity have seemed? A country with very little industry, with two wings cought in a tenous-albeit passionate- marriage, and, after the death of its greatest advocate- very little far-sighted leadership.

Yet, we have survived. Both countries have continued to exist (with the more-or-less inevitable split of East Pakistan from the Western part), and have flourished, to a greater or lesser extent. Serious disparities and inequalities in each nation notwithstanding, tvery few people serious contemplate the break-up of either, despite strong seccessionist movements that have occurred from time to time. That certainly deserves congratulations, to both these countries.

At this point, I hope for peace. In the words of Jaffri:
"Tum aao gulshan-e-Lahore se chaman bardosh,
Hum aayen subh-e-Banaras ki roshni lekar,
phir uske baad yeh poochein ke kaun dushman hai"

And on that optimistic note, I end.