Gathering pieces of the partition in poetry for world audience
Sarita Jenamani, an Indian poet writing in English and Odiya, and Aftab Husain, an eminent Urdu poet from Pakistan, living and working in Vienna, have brought out an anthology of Punjabi poetry with a difference ‘Silence Between the Notes’, inspired by the famous quote on music by Mozart.
What makes it different is that it attempts to be a representive collection with poems from Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Hindi, English, Bangla and Kashmiri.
The inclusion of multi-lingual poetry encased in one cover gives a larger view of poems penned to highlight this great divide of 1947, many written by the first generation who witnessed it and then even by the second and third who experienced the aftermath of the bloodbath and mass migration that was to accompany the gruesome division on communal basis.
The two most acclaimed poems on the Partition came from Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, ‘Subah-e Azadi (The Dawn of Freedom) and Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam’s ‘Ajj Akhan Waris Shah Nu’ (Ode to Waris Shah) are well known but this multi-lingual anthology gives a larger view of the human loss and pain in the catastrophe.
This anthology of 91 poems opens alphabetically and the reader first encounters a poem by Adil Jussawalla in English, Sea Breeze, Bombay. Born to a Parsi family, Adil was just seven in 1947 but a witness to Sindhi refugees from Pakistan he was to write later: “Partition’s people stitched Shrouds from a flag, gentlemen scissored Sind/An opened people, fraying across the cut country/ Re-knotted themselves on this island”.
There are two poignant poems written as letters to Amrita Pritam and Balraj Sahni by Paksitani Punjabi poet Ahmad Raahi, who migrated to Lahore from Pakistan in 1947. Rahi laments thus on the cross-migration: “Countrymen to our country we have come as refugees/Homeowners, to your home we have come as guests”.
Among others from Bangladesh is a Bengali poem by Taslima Nasreen on the broken Bengal. Mahjoor, a well-known Kashmiri poet, mocks at the coloniser for handing over a bleeding country in the name of liberty. Sindhi poet Vimmi Sadarangini, a second-generation migrant, longs for the lost Sindhi land which she never saw and Munir Niazi, celebrated poet of Punjabi and Urdu, who migrated from Hoshiarpur to Lahore as a teen, is represented by his famous Punjabi verse: ”The paths were somewhat tough/ Sorrow sat heavily on the heart/ City folks were somewhat cruel/ We also sought death”!
Among many other known and lesser-known poets of the sub-continent, some of them now a part of the diaspora, is the poem of the famous British poet WH Auden who wrote one the most explosive of Partition poems indicting the British through the caricatured account of the Radcliffe Line that cut through the sub-continent in a callous disregard by its architect Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Describing the havoc wrought by someone in a hurry without knowing the sub-continent or its people, Auden describes his departure: ”The next day he sailed for England, where he quickly forgot/ The case, as a good lawyer must/ Return he would not/ Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot”!
What is the reason for the Partition and its dirges still having many takers and poets born decades after 1947 penning poems to this page of history? To this, Punjabi poet Amarjit Chandan says: “It takes three generations to forget a national catastrophe for something like Partition it may be even more. Chandan had edited a volume of Partition poetry last year called ‘San Santali’ (The Year 1947). This year, a prestigious Hindi tri-monthly journal from Delhi has also published a selection of poems on the theme from Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi.
When asked what the impact of the anthology ‘Silence Between the Notes’ been abroad, Aftab says: “Some South Asian departments worldwide welcomed this project that fills that gap in the Partition literature. Common German readers were completely unaware of this phenomenon of human tragedy of Indian Partition, a complete anthology of poetry on this topic impressed them and many of them compare this poetry to the Holocaust poems. PEN international (Austrian Chapter) has already included it in it‘s programme to translate and publish the anthology for German-speaking readership in 2020.” Translations into Bangla and Urdu are also being undertaken.