A nation torn asunder, leaving estranged kins and beleaguered friends truncates the populace psyche. This gnash of irreparable loss churns out Partition literature. Crossing Over is an anthology of stories by discerning writers of three countries? India, Pakistan and Bangladesh embroiled in the line of fire. There are two essays and a score fictions by Bhisham Sahni, Saadat Hasan Manto, Mohan Rakesh, Gulzar, Prafulla Roy, Samaresh Basu, Abul Bashar, Kamleshwar and other writers of such stature. Most of the stories are English rendition of original stories written in Urdu, Bengali and Hindi. The writers work ?in a more subtle realm? than sociologists, historians and political scientists. They espouse the plight of these frantic and frenzied victims. Crossing Over is a story of dispersal and cross-pollination.
Frank Stewart, the editor, has included ?A Karachi family album? to project a real hapless victim Teresa Vas and her travails of vicissitudes on getting jettisoned out of Karachi to Hawai traipsing a jaunty trail. The book is splurged with pictures of her. ?Partition dramatically altered Karachi?. Till 1947, it grew a prosperous and a well-planned city under British heyday flashbacks to juxtapose the cataclysmic effect of Partition. It was in 1869 when the Suez Canal became functional to become South Asia'sclosest major port to Europe, Goans stated to make a beeline for Karachi. By 1900, Karachi had emerged as the biggest wheat-exporting port in the British Empire. And again they had to evacuate on account of Partition fiasco.
The alacrity of Partition can be gauged by the fact, the January riots led to a massive exodus which formed the number of 170,000 from the city of 400,000. The Hindus comprised of fifty-one per cent while the Muslims made for forty-two per cent of the population. ?Between 1947 and 1951, Karachi'spopulation grew by 432 per cent, as 815,000 new immigrants ?known as mohajirs? sneaked in the newly created Pakistan. Hindus were slow to leave at first, feeling somewhat secure in their numbers and their good relationships with the local Sindhi population. However, they soon felt overwhelmed by the newcomers, mainly Urdu-speaking who needed shelter?.
In ?The train has reached Amritsar?, someone chips in a credulous question, ?whether I thought Jinnah Sahib would continue to live in Bombay or move to Pakistan. My answer was: ?Why should he leave Bombay? What would be the point? He can always go to Pakistan and come back?. Nothing had changed in the way people talked to each other or joked together. ?Given the country'shistory, everyone felt that after Independence the riots would automatically stop.?
In Sadat Hasan Manto's?Toba Tek Singh?, readers get the portrait of ranting of sanity. People whom the society hold to be madcaps reel under the searing pain of Partition that spared none. The otherwise deranged people who revel living in oblivion incarcerated inside a Lahore asylum find themselves in limbo with sheer despair of uncertainty devouring them. The protagonist demurs all demarcations to seek unison with his hometown. Gulzar's?Ravi Paar? takes a turn from the suffering of people to a shattering blunder by Darshan Singh to numb readers with ineluctable tragedy of mistaken identity. In ?Father? by Prafulla Roy, an octagenarian Shekharnath Bandyopadhyay is a devout Bangladeshi refugee living in Calcutta. He has not met his daughter Khuku for thirty long years. And yet he doesn'teven desire to meet her rather wants his daughter, Khuku dead as Muslims had abducted her tainting her chastity. A similar fate is met with ?Lajwanti? in Rajinder Singh Bedi'sstory.
Samaresh Basu is a name to reckon with as a prolific writer. In his ?Farewell?, a boatman and a mill-worker meet fortuitously amid trepidations to discover themselves of opposite faiths. But then trepidation devolves into camaraderie and mutual compassion. One reaches his destination while the other is meted out manslaughter, interred with his sweet dreams. ?And he heard the death cry of the fugitive. In his dazed imagination, a picture? floated up. To his chest he was clutching the new clothes and sari for his children and wife. Gradually they turned crimson with blood. The living partner heard ?I couldn'treach them brother. My darling will drown in tears on their festival day. The enemy reached me first.? It'sa heart-wrenching story to realise the abuse of religion to perpetrate manslaughter with impunity. And life goes on and on amidst all gloomy overheads, the silver lining of discerning world citizens glimmer at the beaconing streaking prudence. ?And as the future opens up before us, the past becomes even more indistinct?, says Bhisham Sahni in his story.
In ?Train to Pakistan? (Khuswant Singh), ?Tamas? (Bhisham Sahni) and ?Sleepwalkers? (Joginder Paul), Intizar Husain (Basti) a common note of irreparable loss resounds across. The pent-up feelings of torment belch out finally in Urvashi Butalia'scollection The other side of silence, what she calls it ?the layers of silence? get peeled down.
The clich? of home sweet home vitalises some characters to get consigned into fetters of old sweet memories. In ?The thirst of rivers?, an Urdu story by Joginder Paul, a famished old woman retains keys of her abandoned house to open the lock of her new house.
The truth as well the savagery is kept glaring in a nonpartisan narration of life experience upholding the essential tenets of human values as social justice, compassion and love. This book serves a conduit for the readers of the Indian subcontinent with mutated genes to transmingle amongst the genetic pool to delve out a common blueprint. Above all, the book carries a subtle message – even readers alien to this subcontinent are likely to forge solidarity and turn peaceniks. The palpable bathos in the stories is laced with bathos to relieve the readers from maudlin effect.
(GBD Books, 16 Ansari Road, Near Mahavir Vatika, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110 002.)