Friday, August 15, 2014

Partition Poetry

There are many remarkable things about the Partition of India. One of the more interesting sub-plots in this saga is that of Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Radcliffe was was a British lawyer  best known for drawing the boundary between India and Pakistan. Interestingly, he had never been to India before this and knew precious little about the land he was about to condemn--a fact that ironically appealed to the people who appointed him since it was assumed this would make him impartial.

Given the circumstances, personally he acquitted himself well. In fact, if Mountbatten had published the award on 9 August, when Radcliffe submitted it to him, a lot of the Partition bedlam might have not have occurred.

This is a poem, called Partition, about Sir Cyril by WH Auden. Captures so much of his task quite perfectly.
Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on this land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
'Time,' they had briefed him in London, 'is short. It's too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we've arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.'
Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.
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.

The Bengalis accepted their own boundary award with a little more equanimity. Maybe Direct Action Day acted like a wake-up call or it could have been the Gandhi-Suhrawardy peace show that calmed Bengal down.

Of course the line Radcliffe drew, split Punjabis apart with terrible consequences. The province saw probably the most brutal killing of the modern age, "cleansing" each half of its minorities.

Here are two Punjabi poets, one from each "side", weighing in on Independence and Partition.

Faiz's Subh-e-Azadi

Gulzar's Lakeerein Hain To Rehne Do

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