Exploring Partition in literature with Saaz Aggarwal

Hosted by Gyaan Adab Centre, “Partition in Literature” was the newest installation of our Book Club meetings. It was conducted by Saaz Aggarwal on the 7th of August, and kicked off at about 6pm.

Saaz Aggarwal is a contemporary Indian writer whose body of work includes biographies, translations, critical reviews and humor columns. As an artist, she is recognized for her Bombay Clichés, quirky depictions of urban India in a traditional Indian folk style. Her art incorporates a range of media and, like her columns, showcases the incongruities of daily life in India. Her 2012 book, ‘Sindh: Stories from a Vanished Homeland’, established her as a researcher in Sindh studies.

As a precursor to her talk on Wednesday evening, Saaz gave us a perspective of the Partition of India through her extensive work interviewing over 200 individuals who lived through the historic event. While Partition literature is written from certain perspectives, the widespread availability of it leads to different interpretations of the text in the context of the consumers. This allows for the story to be painted in shades of grey for different communities. Herein, Saaz’s work is quite specifically concentrated on Sindhi frames of reference. In her book, she speaks of narratives before, during and after the Partition to portray the truly bucolic nostalgia that most forget India and Pakistan share.

The inspiration to write her book struck as a bolt of lightning: sharp and unexpected, in the form of a thought that percolated during Independence Day celebrations. The glorification of the Partition is tied to the victory of India attaining independence from the British, but the trauma enforced by the event lay silenced. This prompted her to visualize and write her novel, Sindh: Stories from a Vanished Homeland that would present a work with the ability to recall critical thought.

The Partition itself was a multilayered scenario; not consisting of just the political decisions that led to it, but also the geographical and cultural divide it enforced.

The main point of her talk was why the Partition was different from other mass acts of violence that were committed throughout human history.

While the Holocaust of the Second World War comprises a specific vocabulary and narrative, the same propitiation is not accorded to the Partition. This was combined with the cognizance of the fact that while it was conceived that the persecution of Jews was an act undertaken solely by one side of the War, the Partition lay skewered in the understanding that both sides, as Khushwant Singh says, “killed, both raped, both slaughtered.”

As per Saaz’s opinion, the real villains that propagated the Partition were not human beings, but the greed for power and for money that corrupted the soul of the revolution by the time it ascended to the freedom of the nation.

She then went on to speak about the religious syncretism that occurred as a result of the Partition leaving those Sindhis residing in India with no bitterness.

In a chronological timeline drawn up by Saaz, the subsequent mass exodus of Sindhi Hindus occurred when the city of Karachi witnessed widespread riots on the 6th of January 1948. This migration was triggered not by directed attack, but the fear of persecution and getting caught in the crossfire. This diaspora left little to the imagination as an entire community of individuals was left impoverished; the abandonment of their belongings in the hurry to migrate, and the mercies of an established class system founded on caste and economic segregation.

She stresses on the consideration of families who carry trauma from the Partition and the heroic rebuilding of their lives and a sense of community that allowed them to settle in their new habitations.

 In her vision, this led to a disconnect between one’s own identity and their self-concept. The subject of her talk encourages the listeners to learn lessons from history, and to break the limiting perceptions of the Partition that allow it to remain a sore topic of discussion.

Of the full house we saw turn out for the session, various attendees were eager to begin a dialogue, wherein one gentleman conveyed the force with which the Sindhis departed current Pakistani soil, while another remarked upon the loss of the Sindh homeland resulting in the loss of a culture.

Gautam Idnani, another attendee of the session, spoke of his grandmother travelling in a coach with 20 other girls, none of whom ever said anything bad about Muslims.

The prevailing opinion lay in the need to observe our collective histories, and to learn from them.

These personal experiences were an intimate end to this talk.

In conclusion, the August meeting of the Book Club was a roaring success that ignited the curiosity and analyses of all present. 

Nityaasha Foundation