Book Review: Partitions by Kamleshwar

The Fallacy of Documented History

Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?’ Kamleshwar’s magnum opus Kitne Pakistan originally written in Hindi and translated as Partitions in English is developed around this premise, that is, constant writing and rewriting of history and the fallacy and inaccuracy of historical truth recorded through so called documentary evidence. Traversing space and time, the narrator trots around the globe to find the truth; to make sense of restlessness and madness that grips mankind.

At the loss of descent of mankind, the narrator collates testimonies to understand why Pakistans are being created all across the world and unravels the malevolence with which history has been distorted time and again to serve those in power.

Lamenting the degeneration of mankind, the author pens down, ‘…Predators prowl everywhere. Tremors set off by chaos, plunder, genocide, abduction and rape reverberate around us. Hyenas, dogs and vultures feast on rotting carcasses and aborted foetuses. Horrific sights of bloodletting abound – more horrific than the Flood that swept away mankind, aeons ago.’

Although the book commences with the Partition of India as a reference point, the narrator – a nameless “adeeb” or litterateur’s moves forward to canvas civilizations, cultures, centuries, countries to discern the conflict, hatred and distrust that grip mankind. Summoning scheming gods, political leaders, religious zealots, scientists, historians, intellectuals who are accused of unleashing an endless rampage and brutality on the world and splintering the bonds of love and compassion that enjoins mankind,

the narrator tries to discern the conflicts that ‘…threaten to destroy the common man in every country and culture.

Beginning with Gilgamesh, who descends to the depths of the deepest ocean to find immortality for mankind, the author shifts to the scene of Partition of India where blood is raining. Fostered by hatred and animosity between Hindus and Muslims, the author sifts through the alternate versions of history to trace the tragedy of Partition that ‘…had shattered the dreams of the masses, leaving in its wake bigots handicapped by illusions of religious superiority.’ Recounting the sufferings of the common man who ultimately bore the brunt of the callousness of those in power, the author narrates, ‘…I’ve lived here all my life and now I’m supposed to go to Pakistan to die, am I? Well, I’m not going to Pakistan, whether the Koransharif or your Kishan Bhagwan in the Gita says so.

Questioning and debunking of official narratives

Questioning the official narratives of major historical events, the narrator or “adeeb” gives voice to the dead, to the Shahs and Shahanshahs, religious zealots and political leaders, the victims of historical events along with rivers, books, time, trees, etc. to unveil authentic history ‘which is engraved on hearts and minds’, to reveal ‘historical manipulations’ that ‘…have spread their tentacles around the humane finales.’ To conceive the foundations of Hindu-Muslim divide, the narrator sifts through alternate narratives of history, pushes back centuries, summons Babar, who claims, ‘I had come to conquer Hindustan for myself, not in the name of Islam. I sought a kingdom and acquired it…The truth, Honourable Adeeb, is that after the uprising of 1857, the British modified their policy. They started dividing my homeland along the lines of religion. I was interred in the soil of Agra, but fanatics exhumed my grave and carried me off to Kabul.

Why Pakistans are being created around the world?

Commencing with the Partition of India and Pakistan, the narrative expanses the entire world from Kosovo to Bosnia to Cyprus to Afghanistan to Lebanon to Syria to Yugoslavia to Somalia to Palestine, where ‘…efforts are on to create Pakistans of hatred in every nation in the world…Using hatred as a prop, everyone is involved in creating new Pakistans against the interest of their own people.

As half-truths have been percolating as historical recollection, ‘…The past comes in handy to unite hatreds, especially those painfully bitter memories that ooze and fester.’ Standing on trial are religious zealots who have laid the foundation of fractured nations across the world to further their ‘perverse religious goals’.

The author dissects the flaws in the arguments of religious zealots by stating ‘…Religion does not establish the parameters of national identity. Much before organized religion came into being, every society functioned on the basis of some kind of faith or principle…’ Bemoaning the author cries, ‘…when religion is manipulated for political ends to engender hatred, not one, but many Pakistans are born’, ‘…The more nations you create, the more fragmented mankind becomes. The world has been unnecessarily divided into a myriad segments. For God’s sake, control this urge to divide and destroy!’ The narrator sums up that the reason behind the creations of many Pakistans is the fanatical zeal and not religion, ‘…A religion like Islam is battling its own zealots. Perhaps, all the religions in the world will be compelled to wage war on their own band of fanatics. With your bigoted vision and the arguments originating from it, you will continue to create one Pakistan within another…

The foundations of Pakistans are laid to realize overriding ambitions of rulers and religion is incorporated into statecraft to ascend thrones, ‘All invaders who came to Hindustan – from Mohammad bin Qasim to Babar – were driven by the medieval lust for fame and riches’,…Each time they failed to realize these overriding ambitions, they sought refuge in religion. Tell me, how many subedars, rana-maharanas or emperors have given up their thrones for their faith? The truth is that till today, not a single ruler has ceded his throne for the sake of fulfilling his religious yearnings.’

Trajectory of the Partition

Tracing the trajectory of the Partition, the author clocks back to 1757 when unity was disrupted and the distinction between statecraft and religion was blurred by Aurangzeb, the religion was flagrantly used and the seeds of Partition were sown. Summoning the important players from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten, the narrator recounts the painful tragedy of Partition. Ripping apart the very concept of ‘enemy’ and the homeland, the author chronicles the agonizing saga of a woman who is raped and pierced apart by the soldiers of the enemy country as well as the soldiers of her country, ‘…They left behind a battered, naked woman who repeatedly asked herself, ‘Who, after all, was the real enemy?’ Dishearteningly, the narrator concludes, ‘…It is hard to recognize enemies! Now, they have all banded together to conspire against human dignity and destroy it! They have taken an oath…

Beginning from Gilgamesh and concluding with the humanity’s obsession to ‘…produce the most horrifying weapons of death and destruction’ to vanish the planet ‘…from the face of the universe!’, the only hope of humanity’s redemption lies in love and compassion, tolerance and forbearance

manifested through the stories of Runa and Enkidu, Zainab and Buta Singh, Vidya and the litterateur ‘adeeb’, Pari and Nadeem Singh and many more.

Pertinent questions raised by the author

In the world where conflicts and intolerance are ubiquitous and violence and destruction of humanity is prevalent, the voice of Kamleshwar becomes all the more relevant, ‘It is necessary to recognize that each religion is different; but it is far more important to understand that all religions share the common message of humanity. Advocates of democracy should never allow themselves to forget that even the most useless, damaging and socially unacceptable opinions deserve a hearing in an ambience of freedom and transparency, unimpeded by restraints of any kind.’

Raising pertinent questions about weaving of half-truths and lies as history, the author puts forward the agenda of victors’ who pervert history and leaves behind endless violence and human suffering, ‘…History written in blood and recorded under coercion can never be other than suspect. Such accounts are written by professional historians who are paid to do so. Far more authentic are accounts that record the thoughts, aspirations and remorse of the very people who actively participated in historical events…

Maya Angelou wrote, ‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.’ Kamleshwar through his narrative also tries to understand history to rupture the present from the shackles of the past otherwise, ‘the future will simply be a repeat of the past.’ Through Partitions, the author does not try to erase or change the history but to ‘analyse and understand that bit of the past which casts a dark shadow on the present, laying the foundations of hatred and revenge in many Pakistans.

By facing the history with courage, by giving voice to numerous perspectives, the author is trying to free the future from the shadow of the past.

However, the debate raised by the author raises pertinent questions that do not cease with the end of the book. Kamleshwar himself wrote, ‘…Like all novels, this one, too, had to conclude somewhere. So it ended. Yet, in my mind, the debate carries on…

Title: Kitne Pakistan (translated as Partitions)

Author: Kamleshwar

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 367 pages

Genre: Indian Fiction

Rating: 5/5

Buy it from: Amazon Flipkart

About the Author

Kamleshwar (कमलेश्वर) was a prominent 20th-century Hindi writer, and scriptwriter for Hindi cinema and television. Among his most well- known work are the films Aandhi, Mausam, Chhoti Si Baat and Rang Birangi. He was awarded the 2003 Sahitya Akademi Award for his cult Hindi novel Kitne Pakistan (translated in English as Partitions), and also the Padma Bhushan in 2005.

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