Events around the 15th of August, 1947

Puducherry 2006

Partition, W. H. Auden

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on this land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
‘Time,’ they had briefed him in London, ‘is short. It’s too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we’ve arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.’

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he quickly forgot
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.

The Independence of India came with its partition. The maps were drawn up by the colonial power in 7 weeks. The new frontiers mainly passed through the former provinces of Punjab and Bengal. Kings of nominally independent states within the former colonially governed India were given a choice of which country to join, a process that was not yet completed by independence day. The colonial administration withdrew 75 years ago on August 15, leaving the yet unformed governments of the two countries to oversee the process of division.

The Dawn of Freedom
Faiz Ahmad Faiz

(translated from Urdu)

This light, smeared and spotted, this night‐bitten dawn
This is not that dawn we waited for so eagerly
This is not that dawn whose desire we held in our hearts
 When we set out together, friends all, hoping
That we would find the final destination
Of the stars in the forests of heaven,
That the slow‐rolling night had an end
That the boat of our afflicted heart’s grief would drop anchor somewhere.

When, from the mysterious paths of hot blooded youth,
We sought that world,
Many were the hands that rose to clutch our garments,
Open arms called, bodies distracted us
From the impatient bedchambers of beauty—
But the yearning for the dawn’s face was too dear
The hem of our radiant beauty’s garment was very close.
The load of desire was not too heavy,
Exhaustion lay somewhere on the margin.
It is said that light has removed the darkness now
It is said that journeying feet have found their destination
The pain in our hearts have gone now
Joy of freedom—yes; agony of separation—forbidden!
But the fire of our blood, the eagerness of our eyes, the grief of our heart
Remain unquenched by this cure for disunion’s pain;
From where did the morning breeze come?
Where did it go?
The street‐lamp at the edge of the road has no notion yet
That the weight of the night has not lifted
The moment for the freedom of our heart has not come yet
Let us go on, we have not reached the destination yet.

Swathes of the country had been depopulated when indentured labourers were transported to European colonies across the world in the 19th century after slavery was abolished. Freedom came a century later, after 74,000 Indian troops died WWI and 87,000 in WWII to protect the interests of its colonizing power. During WWII, the war-time prime minister of the colonizer reserved grains in India for troops, precipitating a deadly famine. Counts of civilian deaths due to famine were first placed at 1.5 million, but by 1947 had crept up to about 2.5 million. Attempts at more accurate counting later found significantly more deaths, not a negligible fraction of civilian deaths in Russia in the same war, or the number of Jewish people killed in the “Final Solution”.

I speak to Waris Shah today, Amrita Pritam

(translated from Punjabi; Waris Shah wrote a Punjabi poem about star-crossed lovers Heer and Ranjha)

I say to Waris Shah today, speak from your grave
And add a new page to your book of love

Once one daughter of Punjab wept, and you wrote your long saga;
Today thousands weep, calling to you Waris Shah:

Arise, friend of the afflicted; rise and see the state of Punjab,
Corpses strewn on fields, and the Chenaab flowing with blood.

Someone filled the five rivers with poison,
And this water now irrigates our soil.

Where was lost the flute, where the songs of love sounded?
And all Ranjha’s brothers have forgotten to play the flute.

Blood rained on the soil, graves ooze with blood,
The princesses of love cry their hearts out in graveyards.

Today all the Quaido’ns have become thieves of love and beauty,
Where can we find another one like Waris Shah?

Waris Shah! I say to you, speak from your grave
And add a new page to your book of love.

75 years is a lifetime. The only living survivor of the partition in my extended family is an old aunt who remembers herself at 17 years of age, staying to finish her school exams before leaving home by a train out of a country which was now no longer hers.

Old children and daughters, Annadashankar Roy

(translated from Bengali)

You scold your daughter
Because she broke a bottle of oil
But you overgrown children
Break and divide India!

Break provinces, break districts
Land, home,
Bedstead, rice heaps,
Factories, railways!

Tea estates, coal mines,
Colleges, police stations, offices,
Chairs, tables, wall clocks,
Peons, police, professors!

Warships, tanks,
Cannons, planes, horses, camels,
Breaking and dividing
A festival of loot!

You scold your daughter
Because she broke a bottle of oil
But you old children
Break and divide India!