THE RECENT translation of the journal Chhata Darya in English (as the Sixth River) by Prof Maaz Bin Bilal brings to life the oft-forgotten but ever pervasive lived experiences of one of the most tragic episode of history that the people of the subcontinent went through.
The author and the protagonist of this journal, Fikr Taunsvi (born Ram Lal Bhatia), is a distinguished public intellectual and literary writer of erstwhile undivided Punjab.
The journal, published in 1948, exposits his thought process, emotional contradictions, human dilemmas and political predicaments during the three months that were characterized by the sense of loss and pangs of separation.
Hence, the sixth river is a metaphorical river for the divisive Radcliffe line that precipitated gory violence on the subcontinent. For the author, it is the river of blood, tears and sorrow that changed the life and history of the ‘glorious’ land of five rivers forever.
The Sixth River- A Journal from the Partition of India (Written in 1948; English Translation 2019)
Author: Fikr Taunsvi; Translator: Maaz Bin Bilal
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
Pages 178, Price- Rs 499
The journal gives a window to the mind of one of the most courageous Punjabi litterateurs of that time who persevered through the routine violence and divisiveness of Partition to resist the bigoted expectation of going to the ‘imagined motherland of Hindus’ alias India. It also expresses the struggles and tribulations of a ‘fifth column’ Hindu who objected to the policy of transfer of populations on the basis of religion.
The recurring motif of this three-part journal written between August and November 1947 is this visceral experience of a sense of identity being devastated. The repetition of the pain of losing a composite society, a cohesive identity, a common culture, of collective sanity, and of humanity at large flows through the text in various forms of cynicism, satire and rhetoric.
Lahore’s Man of Culture
Lahore and Punjab are at the core of Fikr’s identity and personhood. He has deep emotional connection with the streets, hotels, coffee houses and the ‘air’ of Lahore. He expresses a guileless ‘regionalist’ contempt for the Hindu and Sikh residents of Lahore who escaped the vagaries of Partition and were living in refugee camps in the ‘competitor’ city of Delhi.
In his classic satirical manner, he criticises the ‘nincompoop, daydreaming’ fleeing Punjabis for their ‘cruel’ decision of abandoning ‘their’ land.
For Fikr, the transfer of populations was far more than the natural consequence of independence. For him, it is the civilizational loss where the virtues of reason, debate, culture, science and literature had been abandoned for the manic "tamasha” for nationalism.
Poignant Political Satire
Fikr has a unique and critical take on the communal tensions, the citizenship crisis as well as cynical politics of Jinnah and Nehru. He critiques the inherent contradictions in their thoughts and their deeds.
He sarcastically comments on their ‘abstract’ and ‘unsuccessful’ appeals for communal harmony and minority protection while millions of innocent humans were being tormented, houses were burning and the entire subcontinent became the ‘apocalyptic battlefield of Cane and Abel’.
He even comments at the inability of the national icons like Gandhi in dousing the flames in the midst of the celebratory declarations of independence. It highlights how nobody was heeding to Gandhi’s public discourses at Jama Masjid.
Fikr's heart keeps going back to the question of Kashmir where competitive hegemonies of Indian and Pakistani nationalism were delegitimizing the people as indistinct dots in the curated theatres of violence. His perturbed state of mind is betrayed by his concerns about the condition of hungry naked Kashmiris who were being destroyed in name of magical vision of democracy.
An Ode to Punjabiyat
Fikr categorically and clearly expresses cynicism through his satire at the idea of freedom and nation-building of both the new states of India and Pakistan.
He laments the betrayal of the values of the freedom struggle and questions the ‘nationalists’ about the violence of these assimilative and exclusionary post-colonial transitions. This idea of subverting against a majoritarian logic of nationalism that has no consonance with humanity and people’s lives and culture is what reverberates through the psyche of this deeply sensitive author.
It is no wonder that it speaks eloquently to emotions and sentiments of Punjabi romantics in particular and South Asian peace-mongers in general. At a time when the idea of Punjabiyat as the representative of composite culture and normalised, people-centric India-Pakistan engagements is slowly gaining currency in the subcontinent, the book ‘the Sixth River’ pays a tearful ode to this forlorn sentiment.
Prannv Dhawan is a student of Law and Social Sciences at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, India. He was interned with the Partition Museum, Amritsar.
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