The Partition of India was one of the most traumatic incidents that took place on the Indian subcontinent. The difficulties of the time have been forever etched into the minds of those who directly suffered the fatal blows of this separation.
It was a politically charged emotional nightmare that affected people of all faiths and social standing. The anxiety and the wounds this transition inflicted continue to remain fresh even after 73 years of independence. The consequences of the event still continue to politically influence the subcontinent. Great thinkers on both sides have made attempts to move forward.
And yet, the landscape of violence and loss juxtaposed with an ever-growing sense of nostalgia continue to haunt the people. While history has recorded the events and bloodshed in striking details, the laments and pathos of the time can only be understood when one dwells in the works of the partition poets.
The works of these poets have immortalised the sufferings of the time all but from a very personal understanding of the event. The poems below depict the horrifying event and the atmosphere of sadness in a nuanced manner.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz was one of the most celebrated Urdu poets in the literary sphere. Born in Punjab, British India, he was a man who is known for his contribution to the Urdu literary landscape. Subh-e-Azaadi is one of his most iconic poems.
The poem’s association with the dismay that followed the Partition has left many of its readers wondering about the plight of time. The very first line of the poem has an explosive touch to it and provides a sensation of the much-anticipated morning of freedom.
The separation of India and Pakistan is a tale that is governed by a sense of bitterness. This Partition was widely criticised by great poets and thinkers alike. The blood-splattered legacy that it brought about has the name of Cyril Radcliffe attached to it.
The infamous British lawyer partially blamed for splitting an unfamiliar territory without ever personally knowing the land he was about to partition. In the face of responsibility, he refused to accept his £ 3000 salary. However, that was not to silence his critics as the ensuing bloodshed caused the death of 2 million people.
One of his best critics was the poet WH Auden. In his poem Partition, he critically inspects Radcliffes’s disastrous move. It is horrifying when one comes to know that an Englishman’s bowels were responsible for the devastating incident.
3. Khoka O Khuku
When it comes to Partition, a common perception is that the carelessly drawn boundaries only mutilated the North, especially Punjab. But in reality, similar incidents of bloodshed also took place in the east.
In fact, the Partition had a ripple-like effect across the whole nation. Khoka O Khuku is a single Bengali rhyme that dissects the idiocy behind the decision.
Written by Annada Shankar Ray, the poem tries to question the logic behind the decision and mocks the “man-children” responsible for engineering it. The poem provides a vivid sketch of 1940’s Bengal and also lists the people and institutions that disintegrated because of the whimsical boundaries.
4. Tomra Jekhane Shaadh Chole Jao – Aami Ei Bangla’r Paare Roye Jabo
Jibanananda Das’ Tomra jekhane shaadh chole jao – aami ei Bangla’r paare roye jabo is another poem of the partition era that speaks volumes of the pain that the partition inherently caused.
Jibanananda Das’s poem perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of denial and disbelief that was prevailing in Bengal when news about the Partition came about. It reflects on the concept of displacement and identity, both of which are not easy to accept.
5. Dudh Da Qatl
Historians have critically recorded and dissected the events related to violence and bloodshed. However, the ground reality is much more pathetic than recorded history. Subpar and abstract notions of home fail to capture the brutality of the time.
And yet, Dudh Da Qatl perfectly captures the animal side of the humans. Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s Punjabi rhyme gives its readers an approximation of the bygone time that evokes the visceral image about the murder of a mother and the subsequent death of childhood.
6. Waris Shah
Amrita Pritam is another Punjabi poet who immortalised the pathos of Partition in her poetry. In her poem, Waris Shah, she evokes the dead Punjabi saint to put an end to this cycle of bloodshed. The verse is a soulful lamentation about the agony she suffers when she witnesses her own Punjab getting poisoned and ravaged by the senseless cycle of bloodshed.
7. Hamara Rakt
As suggested by the title itself, the poem is all about the rain of blood that the troubled times brought about. The poem is a traumatic experience that delves into the depth of brutality that man can conjure. Agyega’s evocative poem speaks about the trauma that is going to cling on to the people for generations to come.
Most of the partition poets lamented the ensuing bloodshed. However, some of them went on to celebrate their hard-won freedom. Brimming with hope, these poets encouraged the common man to enter the new world with courage and dignity. Kashmiri poet Mehjoor’s Azadee focuses on that aspect. However, confusion over how to utilise this newfound liberty also forms the backbone of the poem. It also inspects the new battles that people will have to face because of this newfound liberty.
9. By the Waters of Sind
Agha Shahid Ali’s By the Waters of Sind is another poem that seemingly questions the separation of the geography. It is an intense poem that criticises these artificially imposed boundaries, splitting rivers and mountains or friends and family. Ali tries to relive this through his poem and asks the essential question: what is this strange “separation’s geography?”
10. Yahan Bhi Wahan Bhi
For many years people on both the sides have impeached each other over the partition. The blame game has continued into the 21st century. Indian and Pakistani politics still continue to be influenced by the event. Yes, there are some people who are clearly responsible for bringing out this catastrophic event to fruition.
However, there have been equal amounts of bloodshed on both sides. This is what Indian poet Nida Fazli emphasises on. Upon his first visit to Pakistan, Fazli was struck by the idea that people’s suffering and its articulation was similar on both sides of the border and this idea essentially comes up in his poem Yahan Bhi Wahan Bhi.