Partition Tales Retold, in an Old Delhi Caf'
A reading of new stories and classics, for a young crowd
Recently in the capital, a young audience got a peep into the tragedy of the post-independence Partition of India. Those past disturbing times were revisited through the narration of select stories in an event held, most suitably, in an Old Delhi haveli (mansion) redone as a café.
All the stories told in the walled city made the audience relive the communal riots that were part of the sordid Partition saga. There was ‘Adaab’ by Samaresh Basu, a sensitive yet on-the-edge story of two individuals who find themselves stuck in the middle of riot infested Calcutta.
After initial mutual fear and doubts, they discover that they belong to opposing communities. But the realisation does not hide the reality – that both are just trying to survive the ordeal, and reunite with their families. Their common predicament binds them in humanity and they end up sympathising with each other.
Samaresh Basu, born in 1924, was a celebrated Bengali writer and wrote under the pen name Kalkut. Many of his stories were turned into movies by major directors such as Mrinal Sen, Basu Chatterjee and Tapan Sinha. Gulzar directed a movie titled Namkeen (1982), which earned Basu a Filmfare Award for best story.
Varun Grover’s story ‘Harihar Vichittar’ stood out for being written by a contemporary writer, unlike all the other stories read at the event which were penned by Partition’s contemporaries. A quirky tale with elements of magic, the story is about an old lady who is going senile, and occasionally dives into her foggy memory to bring out a strange name.
Harihar Vichittar, who no one in her present family has heard of, sets off an inquisitive search into the labyrinth of the old lady’s memories, and a young relative brings out her story of Partition.
It turns out Harihar Vichittar was a stranger who came to her village one day and who, according to the old lady, could fly and worked hard to save people from the riots. He used his flying ability to try and avert the act of Partition itself, and broker a way out between the politicians involved, but sadly failed.
He seems to epitomise the hope that people had till the last moment, a hope which told them that this totally strange and inexplicable idea of Partition would never become a reality.
Tamas, Bhishma Sahani’s poignant novel on the partition of Punjab, brings out the stupidity with which the communities reacted during those times, and though narrated in a truncated way it did strike a rapport with the audience.
The novel earned Sahani a Sahitya Akademi Award in 1975 and was turned into a very well-made film by Govind Nihalani in 1988. It was shown as a mini-series on India’s state television channel Doordarshan and later as a four-hour feature film.
The fourth story told was the well-known ‘Khol do’, by Saadat Hasan Manto. It’s the story of an old man trying desperately to find his daughter, lost in the confusion of Partition. His search ends in a moment of the stark reality of riots.
Even the best known stories read in this refitted haveli were new to some of the young audience. Said Nidhi, “Though I had heard about Manto’s Khol Do, today was the first time I got to know about Bhisham Sahani’s Tamas. I plan to definitely grab a copy of the book and read it.”