& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Partition Literature & KGAF

Though it’s been just slightly over six months since I left Mumbai, it does seem a lot. It’s not that I miss Mumbai much. I certainly don’t miss the chaos. It’s freezing cold in Toronto most of the time. But there’s order. I don’t have to sit in an autorickshaw for hours in the midst of rising automobile exhaust fumes just to reach home after work.

The subway in Toronto is crowded sometimes, but never as much as Mumbai’s suburban trains. And, commuting to Oakville in the Go Trains is such a pleasure. I guess, after a few years, when the novelty of it all dies down, all these activities will become a drag and full of drudgery. But till then, I’d rather be in Toronto than in Mumbai.

I received an e-mail message last week from Anju Makhija, a prominent Mumbai poet and writer. I don’t know here, but attended a scintillating session of discussion on Partition literature in which she was a participant. That was during the Kala Ghoda Art Festival in 2008.

The Kala Ghoda festival is on right now. Over the last few years it has developed into a major event in Mumbai. I miss being in Mumbai because instead of participating in the Kala Ghoda festival – as a spectator – I’m reading about it in on the Kala Ghoda Gazette – the festival’s official blog.

Last year, one of the highlights of the festival was the panel discussion on Partition Narratives. I attended the session primarily because Alok Bhalla (photograph) was to be one of the participants. He did not make it because of some delay. The session, even without him, turned out to be – as I said earlier -- scintillating. If you’re interested in reading my report on it, click here.

Alok Bhalla is an academic. He has published extensively on translation theory, literature, and politics. I haven’t read anything by him except his Stories about the Partition of India. Partition literature is so vast, diverse and multilingual that it becomes difficult for a lay reader to come to grips with the enormity of the subject. Also, it is impossible to get good translations of these works in English.

Bhalla’s one volume paperback has the best short stories from almost all major languages of South Asia in which most of the Partition Literature was (and is being) written: Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, and includes works of writers from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. In fact, this book even has a short story originally written in Malayalam – a language not usually associated with Partition literature.

Bhalla’s book as the two best known classics of Partition literature:  Sadat Hasan Manto’s Toba Tek Singh and Rajender Singh Bedi’s Lajwanti.  If you want to read just one book on Partition literature, this is the one. Read it to understand the deep and permanent wounds inflicted by the Partition of the subcontinent. A brilliant and in depth review of the book is available at the following URL: http://www.urdustudies.com/pdf/10/27BhallaStories.pdf

An aside: I’m sure all Indians are aware of the Indian crabs’ story. I'm repeating it for those who haven't heard of it. It’s not necessary to close a basket carrying Indian crabs. This is because if one crab tries to get out of the basket, the other crabs will pull it down.  

On the authority of recent experiences in Toronto, we can safely say this is true for the entire subcontinent.

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