Stories of Partition never run out. At Savage Harvest, a session named after a collection of short stories by Punjabi author Mohinder Singh Sarna (1923-2001), one could begin to understand why.
His son, diplomat and author Navtej Sarna, who has translated the stories from the original Punjabi, spoke to publisher-writer Urvashi Butalia about how his father and other writers over the years have dealt with this historical trauma, which tore apart the lives of millions.
These are stories of carnage, but they also depict “the element of humanity in people that remained during barbarism, irrespective of religion,” Sarna said.
The elder Sarna lived through the brutalities of Partition and many of the stories in this collection are based on his own experiences.
“But what made him write stories full of hope and compassion in the face of violence and despair?” asked Butalia.
“I think it was the writer in him that made him look back at Partition from a different angle, one of hope,” Sarna said. “There was immense bloodshed and violence on both sides…But through these horrors, there were many people who acted as human beings.”
These are the stories about those people.
Mohinder Singh Sarna, who produced several volumes of poetry, stories and novels, wrote his first book at 21. Like Manto, whose most memorable stories deal with the devastating aftermath of the bloody event, Sarna too nursed a deep wound. “In 1963 or 64, he suffered a nervous breakdown,” Navtej Sarna said.
“Doctors could not diagnose him, could not find a cure. Finally, one doctor asked him about the Partition and his experiences.”
But Sarna said his father, a very “reticent” man, never spoke about these stories at home.