Reminder Partition stories

Traitor, Krishan Chander; Translated from the original Urdu by Rakhshanda Jalil; Tranquebar press/westland, Rs.250; Pages 138

IN THE SUMMER OF1947, the flames of Partition seared the souls of Indians and branded them with the torturous brutality of communal violence and horrific images that would keep them in shock for generations. 

The numbers vary but it is estimated that around 15 million were displaced and 1-2 million people died violent deaths. Many more suffered psychic trauma, separated from their families and being forcibly evacuated from their homes. Thousands more would have lost their lives to epidemics sweeping through the refugee camps on both sides of the border. More than 100,000 women, considered the symbol of community honour, were abducted and gang-raped, many to death. Guilt may have claimed the lives of the perpetrators too. Many lost their mind. 

Tragedy forms the grist of writing and innumerable stories have been written on the unspeakable horrors and cruel deeds of Partition, that left an entire nation grieving for decades. From Sadat Hasan Manto’s haunting short stories, which paint pictures of the Partition in excruciating detail, to Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, which delves deep into the psyche of the people, bring the reader face to face with the gruesome atrocities of those few devastating weeks in the history of India. Muslims and Sikhs were the unwitting warring factions in this drama, staged by the ambitions of a few politicians and spurred by the tortuous machinations of a ruling power that had long used a system of political appeasement of different sections to win their loyalty.

Krishan Chander’s Ghaddar published in 1960, is another translation about the Partition, but this time it takes the reader along a journey with the protagonist Baijnath, replete with all the human failings within us. A man born to riches, who lives an indolent life, is usually a coward, often selfish and entirely given to protecting himself to the exclusion of everyone around him. When he reaches the safety of a refugee camp and discovers his son has been killed and his sister abducted, Baijnath finds within himself the beast that wants to inflict the worst possible injuries on the perpetrators of these crimes. 

Chander’s novel shows us how in such times of terror and trauma, in a bizarre cycle of cause and effect, villains and victims become one. Every inflictor of pain is carrying within himself the pain and suffering of deep loss, and this cycle is perpetuated endlessly. 

But Chander’s hero redeems himself. His discomposure and inability to spear an old man, whose grey eyebrows and chest hair remind him of his own father, killed a few hours ago. When he finds himself aching and unable to join the queue for the gang rape of a young Muslim girl whose heartrending cry, ‘Oh brothers, I am your sister!’ reminds him of his own sister, abducted by some Muslims. And ultimately when he picks up the little Muslim child fallen to the roadside, perhaps the age of his own slain little boy, and carries him away, saying ‘I am your uncle’.
Baijnath is a soft-hearted person, who finds it impossible to believe that people he considered friends, would in the heat of flared emotions, be willing to slaughter him and his family. It takes him a while to realise that in the face of the storm overtaking the country, all old relationships became redundant. 

Rakhshanda Jalil, literary historian, writer, translator, editor and critic, has translated the Urdu Ghaddar into Traitor. Not having read the original, I cannot comment on the accuracies of the translated book. However, Traitor is a fluent and vibrant work, with no bumps or awkward phrases. Some of the original Hindi words and little ditties in Punjabi are retained allowing the unaccustomed reader to roll the words around the tongue and perhaps get a better picture of those times. Footnotes provide the meanings of unfamiliar words and dialogue context. 

For me, the most critical contribution of Jalil is in the introduction to the book, comparing those times to the present. Where the shrieks of a polarised populace makes us forget who we are and allows the beasts within us to arise and lynch, plunder and loot our fellow human beings. Where we start to believe our own screeching rhetoric and point shaking fingers at others who choose to stay calm and balanced — calling them traitors. As in the book when Baijnath shakes off his inner demons and embraces those he is supposed to hate. In that moment when he discovers his own Self as a part of the universe around him, he is branded a traitor. 

Chander’s book was never more relevant than it is today. These stories of anguish, like those of the holocaust, must be told over and over again, so that mankind remembers them with revulsion and avoids repeating the mistakes of history. So that like Baijnath, we pray and hope that a… “day will dawn, when men will be willing to lay down their lives… when they will conquer their basest instincts… and touch the goalpost of humanity”.
malati mukherjee (The Book Review, February 2018)

Releasing inherent kindness

Your turn now!, Lubaina Bandukwala, FunOkPlease; Rs.299, Pages 94

LAUNCHED around a decade ago, Your Turn Now! (YTN) has blossomed into a global movement inspiring many people to engage in random acts of kindness in their everyday lives. It has touched tens of thousands in India and abroad, from different social classes, communities and age groups.
Mumbai-based Rushabh Turakhia is the prime mover of YTN. It all began some years ago when his uncle met with an accident and was taken to a hospital in an autorickshaw by an unknown lady who was passing by. The lady remained by his uncle’s side until his family arrived. When they saw him in good hands, they were relieved. They tried to find some way of rewarding the good Samaritan, but she simply said, “If you are kind to someone else in need, that would be thanks enough.”

Rushabh couldn’t stop thinking about this incident. The lady’s inspiring generosity planted the seed of an idea in his mind — do a good deed and in return request the beneficiary to pass it on by helping someone else. This process, he reasoned, could become a chain of kind acts and interactions which would impact thousands of lives. From this shared ideal emerged YTN. The possibilities are endless and each act is acknowledged with a YTN card.

“I see a lot of unkindness around (...) the human race is referred to as ‘mankind’ but somehow the words ‘man’ and ‘kind’ have become separated. The goal of the YTN movement is to encourage people to be thoughtful and compassionate,” says Turakhia. An innate human instinct, YTN has spread like a “kind fire” in schools and colleges, where students have been inspired to perform random acts of kindness. Schools plan to include it in their curriculums, and corporates have begun to use it as a corporate social responsibility initiative.

This wonderful book is an impressive line-up of the many amazing stories of kindness that YTN has kindled. Among them:

• Mr. Kapoor dropped off his young son for maths tuition, but deposited him at a wrong address. A man found the lost and distraught child, called Mr. Kapoor and waited with the child until his father arrived. Touched by the stranger’s kindness, Kapoor asked how he could repay him. In response, the stranger gave him a YTN card and requested him to perform a kindness.

• Farah took her housemaid to a confectionary to buy a cake for her son and then gave her a YTN card, explaining what she could do with it in turn.

• Dinshaw received a YTN card from someone, which inspired him to donate blood.

• Stella, a tourist from Finland visiting Delhi, was surrounded by taxi drivers trying to cheat her. A stranger stepped forward to negotiate a fair price and handed her a YTN card.

• Likewise, Hanz and Fritz, tourists from Germany, got a YTN card in Jaipur from a girl who gave them a lift in an auto-rickshaw.

• Rajesh was travelling in a bus and gave the conductor a big note for his ticket. The conductor didn’t have change, so Rajesh requested him not to charge the next ten people who boarded the bus and to cover the fare with what was owed to him. He gave the conductor ten YTN cards to pass on to those passengers.

• Salma was on a train on a winter morning and saw a woman hug her little child close. The girl was very cold, and her mother was trying hard to keep her warm with her dupatta. On impulse Salma took off her shawl and gave it to the woman and insisted they keep it.

These simple, everyday stories demonstrate the various ways in which people are awakened towards thoughtfulness, generosity and compassion which lie dormant in all of us. Not everyone is called upon to do great feats of social service or spend a lot of time and money on grand projects. Random acts of kindness performed with consideration, as this book recounts, can be our way of making the world a better place.

The book’s conversational style is endearing and embellished with excellent illustrations which add to its inspirational message for people of every age group, from 6 to 106! 

Roshan Shah