Poets of Partition

Jan 2016

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[Work in progress] Eraser on Paper iv, Graphite on paper, 52 x 35 inches, Imran Channa, 2015, Lahore.

[Final Work] Eraser on Paper iv, Eraser on paper, 52 x 35 inches, Imran Channa, 2015, Lahore.


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What is the poet’s role in history?1 For a historian of Britain like myself, this question calls to mind the work of E. P. Thompson, who read the history of the English working class with one eye on the Romantic poets who sensitively captured the social and cultural transformations of the revolutionary late eighteenth century. Their notions of place, people, and conflict were also shaped by the imperial expansion unfolding in precisely the same moment, and they waxed orientalist even in their defenses of freedom. Thompson’s favorite among the Romantics was the prophetic William Blake, partly for his consistent anti-imperialism; he disapproved William Wordsworth’s eventual disenchantment with the revolutionary spirit. As an activist and aspiring poet himself, Thompson saw poetry and politics as related pursuits. For him, poetry stood for “deeply inspired action…The poet was crucial to revolutionary politics, for he could articulate the longings that, along with practical programs, inspired men to act.” Blake “embodied the possibility of poetry and politics, romantic yearning and rational resistance in a single movement.”2 This understanding shaped Thompson’s sense of purpose as a historian as he set out to recover the creative — poetic — radical capacity of eighteenth-century English workers. His faith in creativity also made him allergic to the rigid “scientific” materialism of the British Communist Party in his own time, and his discovery of the imaginative play in earlier British socialist movements gave him some hope for endurance of those values in his time.

In 1960, as Thompson wrote his landmark work, The Making of the English Working Class, he criticized W. H. Auden for retreating from the political engagement that had once taken him as far as risking his life in the Spanish Civil War —Auden repeating Wordsworth’s fall. A few years later, Auden ventured into political terrain just enough to pen a satirical poem about Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s role in partitioning India “Between two peoples fanatically at odds/ With their different diets and incompatible gods.” Partition was nearly 20 years old by then. But, India remained on the minds of twentieth-century Britons, not least the Thompson family: Thompson’s father was the poet and historian Edward John Thompson, whose friendship for Indian nationalists and nationalism earned him the title “India’s prisoner.” This elder Thompson also loved the Romantics and was particularly inspired by the heroics of Lord Byron, who died fighting for Greek liberation from the Turks in 1824. This is perhaps why he himself displayed such heroic force in ministering to the wounded under fire during the British Indian conquest of Iraq during World War I, for which he was decorated. Indeed, Byron, the poet who sacrificed for a beloved enslaved people and redeemed the sins of British imperial power, was an iconic figure to his entire generation, although few had the chance to enact such heroism in their mass war of attrition. Among Thompson’s nationalist Indian poet friends, whom he perhaps saw as modern incarnations of the Romantics he so admired, were Rabindranath Tagore and Mohammed Iqbal, both also deeply knowledgeable about Western Romantic poetry (the latter particularly influenced by Goethe). E. P. Thompson recalled cadging stamps from the Indian “poets and political agitators” who visited their home in Oxford in the 1930s and his knowledge that these were the “most important visitors” to their home.3 One senses that for both father and son it was as much the life that such poets lived on the frontlines of history as the poetry they wrote that made them so admirable.

Largely because of his father’s influence, the younger Thompson, whatever his preference for Blake, took on a Byronic role in his attempts as a writer and activist to lead the British working classes out of the darkness of his own time.4 In other words politically engaged anti-colonial Indian poets of the 1930s helped produce the iconic British notions of the poet’s place in history—and helped shape the work of arguably the most important social historian of the last century. But more importantly, for the purposes of this essay, they articulated alternative, if impossible, visions of the subcontinent’s future during the period of nationalist struggle ending in the partition of India. Their diverse visions of social equality, communal harmony, internationalist nationalism, and so on might have been utopian; but recovery of them may yet light a way forward in our time in of social inequality, communal strife, and chauvinistic nationalism. In writing history, Thompson urged, “Our only criterion for judgment should not be whether or not a man’s actions are justified in the light of subsequent evolution. After all, we are not at the end of social evolution ourselves.” The “lost causes” of the past might yield “insights into social evils which we have yet to cure.”5 


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My attempt at excavating Urdu poets’ lost causes here is far from exhaustive; I will leave out major writers and thinkers, I will fail to distinguish between “Urdu” and “Punjabi,” I will wax personal in places.6 Indeed, I focus entirely on Punjab without scruple although an enormous Bengali story runs parallel to and intersects with it, which I have neither the space nor skill to address. But still the exercise of recovery, however uneven and admittedly self-indulgent, is useful precisely insofar as it raises the possibility of countless alternatives, on which more at the end of this essay.

The late historian of British India Christopher Bayly was slightly disappointed when I told him several years ago that I was planning a book on Partition. Too many people were working on it, to the exclusion of other urgent topics, he said; it had become a “cottage industry.” This concentration was despite the fact that collection of evidence and testimony about the event has been a belated project (now rigorously pursued by organizations like the Berkeley-based Partition Archive and the Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP)). But, this stubborn preoccupation with Partition tells us something: wherein lies the unending appeal of this story? I think the answer is that Partition resonates at an almost visceral level as a moral narrative, a moral tragedy. It appeals in the same way that the Western Front does for the British, an event in which all the folly of human history was briefly and tragically on flagrant display. This is why poetry remains a primary recourse in remembering and understanding the Western Front and why Partition is a similar poetic mine. And the paths of poets from these two related worlds crossed here and there. World War I was the subject of my first book, and the period of the Romantics the subject of my second. Now I turn to Partition and find many of the characters in both those works haunting its unfolding.

Partition is poetically irresistible partly because of its resonance — not accidental I think — with older cultural commitments to ideas of “division” in the region where it occurred. Among Punjabis (like myself), it plays on culturally deep, mystical-poetic notions of birha, the longing for union with the divine, which morphs over time into the pardesi’s nostalgia for an increasingly imaginary watan (homeland, country). (Literally, “pardesi” means someone from another land but poetically it also indicates someone simply away from home.) Indeed, I have found it difficult to extricate these inherited layers of nostalgias in my own psyche; hence perhaps my dilatory approach to the subject of Partition, which I have in various ways attempted to work on since I was 19 years old. What I offer here builds on that dawning personal insight and is more speculative and hypothetical than rigorously empirical. It is the fruit of long reflection but short research, a beginning for thought.

I do not think my family is unusual in reading its history through the lens of nostalgia and loss, even as it embraces the future as the path of “progress.” The Satias were a solidly Congress family from Muktsar in Ferozepur district (now on the border with Pakistan). My great-grandfather was jailed for nationalist activities. In 1947, they were not sure which side the town would fall in. I heard flattering stories of efforts to protect terrified Muslims. I wondered about the masjid opposite our house — “Angooran Wali Maseet” (“Grape Mosque”) — which gave the town its romantic skyline, a dignified yet ghostlike centerpiece of a town famous for gurdwaras (Sikh temples) marking Guru Gobind Singh’s battle against the Mughals in 1705, a monument to an absent people. My father left Muktsar for the United States like many Indian doctors in the late 1960s. (His first roommate in Chicago was a Pakistani doctor.) All but one of his brothers also left Muktsar, settling in Rajasthan, New Delhi, and Haryana. Their father distributed them thus because of the partitions of Indian Punjab in 1967 which produced the new states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh: He knew from experience that partition meant uncertainty and sent his sons abroad to insure against that uncertainty, making them pardesis cherishing memories of Muktsar. Punjabi history took a turn for the worse in the 1980s as Indira Gandhi drove Sikhs into a militant separatist movement. When my grandfather died in 1983, his sons and brother engaged in a property dispute that turned violent against that backdrop. The rent familial bonds added more pathos to the nostalgia of those long since dispatched from Mukstar. The home they longed for grew increasingly imaginary, and longing itself became a permanent part of their identity as Punjabis.

My mother’s family hailed from Multan in West Punjab. Perfumers, they determined to stay in Pakistan, but circumstances forced their departure some time in 1948. Those “circumstances” remain cloudy—a kidnapping, a fire, a murder, a disguised escape. In India, they landed in the empty homes of departed Muslims in Old Delhi, eventually moving to New Rajinder Nagar. More embittered than the Satias, they were less nostalgic, and gravitated to the Hindu Right, blaming Congress for causing Partition. Still, my grandmother let fall nuggets of wistful memories, of her father’s fabulous serais (caravansaries) outside Multan where she spent her childhood. Uncles drew maps of a lost city in which their house once stood and may still stand today. In Darya Ganj, surrounded by the remnants of Muslim Old Delhi, my mother grew up with “Hai Allah” on her lips more readily than “Hey Ram,” whatever the family’s antipathy for Islam.

These are just my personal stories. The 1940s, 1960s, 1980s, 2000s produced countless stories of displacement among Punjabis, not to mention those who left even earlier, during colonial times, in the service of the British Indian Army or to escape British rule and poverty by becoming farmers in North America, especially California. Heavy military recruitment from the second half of the nineteenth century and emigration to North American farmlands from the early twentieth century fuelled the poetic tradition around the pardesi and the cult of nostalgia for a homeland that the British transformed into a “resource for supporting a security regime in northwest India.”7 Poetry seems an obvious recourse to expressing the loss and grief experienced by those affected by the redrawing of international borders, as it was in Bengal, Germany, Palestine, Ireland, and elsewhere; in Punjabi and Urdu poetry, partition already existed as a theme, through mystical traditions and earlier emigrations. Displacement became central to Punjabi identity as it is to Jewish and Armenian identity, but it is distinct in the Punjabi’s awareness of his own role in his tragic severance from his home and repeated division of his homeland. His (and I do mean “his” here) is a self-imposed exile guiltily justified by one or another promise of modernity—personal prosperity, for economic migrants; national prosperity for partition refugees. He self-consciously martyrs the homeland for the progress of its children, secure that in dutifully pursuing his worldly ends he nevertheless maintains a timeless bond with it, a bond made more transcendently spiritual at each remove from the geopolitical reality of a place called Punjab.8

Of course this is a stereotype. There is too much variety across sub-region, caste, class, nation, and gender, for this style of Punjabi identity to be true across the board. And yet it is a stereotype we all recognize, quite apart from Punjabi folk traditions, partly thanks to the Indian film industry. The poet and lyricist Gulzar, a son of Punjab’s Partition, immortalized the vision of the northwestern Indian carrying his homeland in his heart wherever he may be in the patriotic anthem, “Ae mere pyaare watan,” (“Oh my beloved homeland,”) sung by the Pashtun selling fruit in Calcutta in the 1961 film “Kabuliwala” which was based on a Tagore story. The films of another Partition refugee from Lahore, Yash Chopra, also made that Punjabi “type” iconic. In his last, posthumously released film, “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” (2012), the Kashmir that figures as heavenly abode in his romances of the 1970s and 80s (“Kabhi Kabhi” and “Silsila”) is the site of bomb-removal for a broken-hearted hero, a son of Indian Punjab with the requisite Pakistani “brother” in London, who determinedly tests fate and cheats death by engaging in ungloved bomb removal because his beloved Meera has put her love of god above her love for him—arguably what many Punjabis did during Partition, putting religious bonds above social ones. “Meera” is of course named for the medieval poetess who expressed her longing for spiritual union with Lord Krishna. The separation of Meera and Samar and their undying mutual longing represents the summit of worldly love made divine.9 Through such translations of Punjabi experience, Bollywood tells us love lies in separation. Pardesi — the one gone from home — is a name for the beloved.


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I owe my understanding of the place of poetry in E. P. Thompson’s work to the historian Joan Scott, who sensitively teased out its significance in the course of criticizing Thompson’s gender blindness in his work on the English working class. She noted that he included the art he so admired in “the masculine, in opposition to a set of unacceptable excluded terms — the domestic, the spiritual, the expressive, the religious, the undisciplined, and the irrational — all of which are coded as feminine.”10 The gender politics of poetry in Punjab are perhaps not dramatically different, but the layering of social and political content on often highly gendered motifs of spiritual and worldly love in the poetry of Punjabis who wrestled with revolutionary change just when Thompson was writing about eighteenth-century activism suggests a more complex gender story; themes of love and society were more separate in most Romantic English poetry. In Urdu poetry, the vocabulary of birha comprises vasl and hijr (union and separation), eliding romantic or erotic allusion with religious devotion. Articulation of love of homeland through the religiously syncretic cultural heritage of birha collapsed art and the spiritual, masculine and feminine. This poetic universe itself is highly gendered, in those erotic connotations, but also un-gendered in its often ambiguously gendered first-person subject; fully grasping its gender politics would require close examination of the poetry well beyond the reach of this essay. For present purposes, I simply want to highlight the centrality of bodily gendered worldly love as allegory in even the most politically-engaged poetic work of the period, as we shall see further below.

Bollywood films packaging our stereotypical Punjabi-who-transcends-Punjab also play on that gendered Sufi idiom: the centuries-old poetic romances of sundered yet mystically united pairs: Heer-Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal, Sassi-Punnu, Mirza-Sahiba. There are others — Shirin Farhad, Laila Majnun — inherited from further northwest. The most famous narration of Heer Ranjha is Waris Shah’s from 1766, based on a true story that transpired some two centuries earlier in Jhang. The tragic ending depicting the two lovers, dead before the chance at union, at once sought to express divine love, in which the most intense experience of union with the divine lies in interminable longing. Is it coincidence or destiny that a region that for so long depicted love through partition should have been the site of violent partition itself? Or is the intense Punjabi preoccupation with these romances a cultural legacy of 1947? The Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam, who left Lahore in 1947, explicitly invoked this cultural coincidence to express her anguish over Partition, particularly the violence done to women, in her much loved poem “Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu” (“Ode to Waris Shah”). Her sentiments and those gestating in the film industry were connected; many of the poets of the world I want to describe were part of the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA), which was closely tied to the Indian People’s Theatre Association; and actors and writers in these groups were tied to Bombay’s film industry; indeed, Partition brought an influx of displaced artistic people there (some migrating to Pakistan but then returning to India), including the object of Pritam’s love, Sahir Ludhianvi, as well as Majrooh Sultanpuri, Ismat Chugtai, Bhisham Sahni, Sajjad Zaheer, and others. After a detour through this artistic universe, I will return to the plight of Heer that Pritam invoked.


Amrita Pritam’s poem appeared in Preet Lari, a literary magazine founded by Gurbaksh Singh, a Michigan-trained engineer, in 1933. Before turning to radical literature, Singh served with the railways. In that capacity he accompanied the Simon Commission in 1928, when the leader of protests at Lahore Lala Lajpat Rai was beaten by police, likely causing his death months later. The events around that commission, followed by the execution of Bhagat Singh in 1931, radicalized Singh. He quit his job and turned to literature.11 He also founded the artist colony Preet Nagar, where the paths of many Punjabi Leftist writers crossed. Its location halfway between Lahore and Amritsar made the colony’s fate unclear in 1947, although it ultimately fell within India. Preet Lari was also popular among California’s Punjabis.12 Some of these Punjabis had ties to the 1857 rebellion and had founded the revolutionary nationalist movement known as the Ghadar Party in 1913 in California. Many Ghadar members had returned to Punjab during World War I to start an armed rebellion but were hanged or imprisoned. (Notably, the pamphlets they dropped on Indian soldiers in France with German help were in Urdu and Punjabi.) From prison in the Andaman Islands, they wrote poetry in Punjabi, which also lapsed into love poetry in which the motherland from which they were exiled stood in for the beloved.13 


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A similar idiom appeared in the work of other poets of this period. Many of them, like Pritam and others who visited Preet Nagar, were part of the Progressive Writers’ movement, which first coalesced among Indian students in England—just when the Thompsons were mixing with Robert Graves and other poets of their time dealing with the war and the elder Thompson began to write voluminously in the cause of Indian freedom himself. These overlapping poetic worlds were shaped by similar modernist and socialist trends. Two Oxford-returned students, the Marxist Sajjad Zaheer and Mahmuduzzafar, joined with two other writers in India, Ahmed Ali and Rashid Jahan, to publish Angare, a collection of short stories, in Lucknow in 1932. This collection, which effectively launched the Progressive Writers’ movement, drew inspiration from James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence (whose work was itself shaped by orientalist trends), and Russian authors like Chekhov and Gogol. It unleashed a storm: many were dismayed by the book’s call for reform in the shape of a new secularism rather than within the existing religious praxis.14 It touched the same nerve as Macaulayite reformism of the previous century,15 even though it emerged less from British liberalism than a mix of cosmopolitan and indigenous currents of socialist thought. In any case, the backlash against its alleged blasphemy was validated by the paternalistic colonial state: the Government of the United Provinces banned the book in 1933. It was in denouncing this gagging that the authors determined to form a league of like-minded thinkers in the form of a Progressive Writers’ Association which met in London, Calcutta, and Lucknow from 1935-1936 (notably, on the heels of the creation of the Union of Soviet Writers). Tagore and Iqbal gave it their blessing; Nehru was part of the initial association. In his address to the second Allahabad conference in 1938, he urged the association to include writers exclusively, not politicians like him.16 This paternalistic guidance betrays either Nehru’s shrewd awareness of the group’s disruptive potential or a naïve misreading of the political possibilities of poetry (and other writing). Many in the group also had ties to the Communist Party of India (CPI). When the British declared India at war in 1939, the Progressive Writers were among those who protested. Edward Thompson was deployed on an official British mission to appease various parties in India, not least because of his friendships with such literary-nationalist figures.

In this essay I am tabling, unjustly, the entire matter of linguistic preference, the history of Urdu-Hindi and Punjabi.17 But it is important to note that Urdu writers took the lead in the formation of this All-India association, wielding a disproportionate influence on its affairs at the national level, even beyond 1947; indeed, at times the Urdu branch was conflated with the entire organization. In this sense, Urdu literary culture took an “aggressively ‘national’ stance.”18 Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi were part of its network in Punjab, as were Bombay-based Urdu writers like Sadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chugtai. Hasrat Mohani joined too. Experiment with form was one part of their modernism; the nazm came into its own in their hands in this period. (Faiz, incidentally, admired Auden, who was then at the peak of his political engagement.) But older Western influences were also at work: Wordsworthian ideas about “natural poetry” had become quaint in Europe but were highly influential among Urdu Progressive poets, with their nationalist and proletarian sympathies. Major Urdu reformers of the late nineteenth century like Maulana Khawaja Hali had been steeped in Romantic English works, including Wordsworth and Byron. He and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of Aligarh, had worked to fulfill Thomas Macaulay’s task of producing an Indian class in the British image,19 but their twentieth-century heirs complicated that mission by invoking a particularly South Asian way of being idiosyncratically modern, drawing on this heritage in their immediate context in new ways.

Many were fiercely anticolonial and yet not nationalistic in the manner of the mainstream Indian National Congress and Muslim League movements, often because their internationalist sympathies with communism prohibited parochialist nationalism. Allama Iqbal’s early patriotism, expressed in his 1902 poem “Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua” (“A Prayer Comes to the Lips”) referred vaguely enough to a “watan” that it remains sing-able in schools in both Pakistan and India. His 1904 “Tarana-i-Hind” (“Indian Anthem”) conjured the Hindustani abroad, carrying his homeland in his heart. Indeed, so many of India’s nationalist leaders studied in universities abroad that this “pardesi” sentiment runs like a red thread through their evocations of patriotism, despite their varying politics. Faiz’s poems were also consistently patriotic without specifying the nation-state they attached themselves to even after Partition. These evocations of homeland built on poetic traditions expressing nostalgia for a lost place, coupled with a critique of empire, that had shaped Urdu poetry in the nineteenth century. Iqbal may have criticized the Sufi tradition for privileging mystical over worldly experiences and producing political passivity, but in fact Urdu poets had long engaged such issues through that Sufi vein. Modern Urdu poetry had evolved in the context of the worldly problem of colonialism and the crises of culture and identity it produced, and the concept of birha had long merged worldly with unworldly concerns.20 In 1835, the four-year-old Daagh Dehlvi was orphaned when his father was hanged for ordering the assassination of Sir William Fraser, Commissioner of the Delhi Territory under the last Mughal emperor (and poet) Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1835. After the death of Daagh’s stepfather (the Mughal prince Fakhroo) in 1856, he lived a life of exile from Delhi, in government service in Rampur and Hyderabad. Jigar Moradabadi and Iqbal were among his disciples. The naming conventions of these poets–Moradabadi, Dehlvi, Ludhianvi, Batalvi—root them in place while also implying their immersion in cosmopolitan and mobile networks in which identification of roots was necessary; loss of homeland was intrinsic to their meditations. Mirza Ghalib’s and Zafar’s broken-hearted response to the British destruction of Delhi in 1857-8 fed that melancholic anti-colonial strain.


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Ghalib’s concern for patronage limited his capacity for ideological rebellion, but socially conscious yet worldly twentieth-century Indian poets proved more willing to experiment with Leftist radicalism.21 The Arya Samaji from UP, Ram Prasad Bismil, author of Bhagat Singh’s favorite poem, “Mera Rang de Basanti Chola” (“Color My Clothes in the Color of Spring”), was with Hasrat Mohani at the 1921 Ahmedabad Congress where the Purna Swaraj (complete self-rule) proposal passed, against Gandhi’s opposition. Immersed in communist literature, he and Bhagat Singh joined the radical Hindustan Republican Association. He was hanged soon after for his participation in the Kakori conspiracy, in which a group of men planned to loot a government treasury from a train in 1925. The British Raj worked hard to crush such revolutionary activity: the Communist Party of India was formed in 1925, but banned in 1934. But poets associated with it addressed all the earthshaking events of their time, from the Rowlatt Act to Partition, and their words spread through an embattled yet burgeoning network of publishers and presses.22 The British were exceedingly anxious about Muslims on the Left, imagining them as the progenitors of Islamic-Bolshevik conspiracy that would threaten the entire world order, as I have written about elsewhere.23 

Certainly, Partition polarized poets active in politics, the CPI, and the Progressive Writers’ Association, but they were too idealistic in too many ways for that polarization to be neatly discernible or explicable. There were the revolutionaries mentioned above. There was the Marxist Faiz, who married the British communist, poet, and supporter of Indian nationalism Alys George in 1941. He was arguably the leading progressive voice in Urdu poetry but never spoke for the group or for the Communist Party. Nehru urged Progressive Writers to prioritize the nationalist movement during the war, and some obliged, but not all. Disagreeing with the “Quit India” strategy, Faiz prioritized the fight against fascism and for the Soviet Union. Seeing it as a revolutionary rather than imperialistic war, he served in the army from 1942-47 in the welfare department in charge of publicity, earning an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).24 These poets did not toe any PWA line any more than they toed a single national line; nor were they all uniformly wedded to the notion of purposive art versus art for art’s sake. In this too they followed divergent paths. More importantly, in our understandable but nevertheless obstructive preoccupation with Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, and the Mountbattens, we have neglected the political visions of these poets who were also political actors; we have fulfilled Nehru’s admonition that they stay meekly by the sidelines of political history while he occupies center-stage. But in their poignant diversity of thought and style lurks a fascinating intellectual history and a generation of creative ideas about South Asian identity and politics. To be sure, some were ideologues, but most were not. Each seemed to nurture his or her own ideas of nation, religion, gender, community, language, genre; all ultimately constrained those anarchic thoughts within the national frames in which they were forced to act, yielding to the dominant, if not quite irresistible narrative of nation-state. Individuals of infinite complexity and diversity, invested in an array of social, political, and cultural causes, subordinated all pursuits to the simple question of being Pakistani or Indian. And yet, this is not what they did at first: in the decade after Partition, their (often tormented) movements reveal that both bins of history—Pakistan and India—still held many possibilities. When those movements stopped and alternative visions were foreclosed, historians settled down to a half-century of analyzing the winners—the Nehrus and Jinnahs. Here I want to at least momentarily peer beyond the horizon at the other roads imagined but not taken.

Some examples: Sahir Ludhianvi left Ludhiana for Lahore after expulsion from college in 1943. His communist views made him a target of the new Government of Pakistan, so, in 1949, he left for Delhi, and then Bombay, where he fed the film industry’s iconography of love and homeland. Saghar Siddiqui of Ambala went to Lahore in 1947, but took to a life on the streets. Manto was endlessly tormented even after he decided to move (calling his nationalist and secularist commitments into doubt for Chugtai, who did not move25 ). He dramatized the absurdity of the choice before him in his famed story, “Toba Tek Singh,” which closes with the image of the deranged Bishan Singh refusing to choose and dying in the no man’s land between the two new countries, their respective lunatics contained within barbed wire borders.26 Like Siddiqui, Manto struggled with depression and addiction; his family committed him to a mental asylum, but alcoholism killed him in 1955. Meanwhile, Zaheer had formed the Communist Party of Pakistan, of which he was Secretary General. He was jailed in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951 but was extradited to India in 1954. Part of the problem is that the choices were not real (the limiting case being that of women who “chose” to jump into wells); even elites were given only the “illusion of choice.”27 This forces us to rethink the meaning we ascribe to the choice to move. Anjum Roomani, from Sultanpur Lodhi, whose father used to make him recite English poems in mushairas (poetic gatherings) as a boy, left for Pakistan in July 1947: what does this mean? What does it mean that Jagannath Azad of Rawalpindi, a poet and Persian scholar and voice for Hindu-Muslim unity, (allegedly) penned Pakistan’s first national anthem at Jinnah’s special request in August 1947 and then yielded to the fears of his friends and family and migrated to India in September? (Whether Azad wrote an anthem or song for Pakistan and whether he did so at Jinnah’s request remains a controversial issue — as the author learned late in the editing process. See, for instance, C. M. Naim, “Contested Verses: Was Pakistan’s first national anthem written by a Lahore-based Hindu?” July 19, 2015, Scroll.in.) Was his later devotion to scholarly study of Iqbal a way of at once atoning for departure, superseding Partition, and understanding its origins?28 In Delhi, he and his family occupied the old home of the Progressive poet Josh Malihabadi when Josh received official accommodation. Josh too was tormented, going back and forth several times in endless search of belonging. He had already been banished from Hyderabad for criticizing the Nizam. Finally he left for Pakistan in 1958 but continued to pine for India.

Apart from Josh, several Urdu poets with roots in the United Provinces did not move or moved late. Professor Hamid Kamal Narvi left Ilahabad for Lahore in 1952. Jazib Qureshi was seven at Partition, but his family stayed in Lucknow until 1950. The communist Jaun Elia left for Karachi in 1957. Shakeb Jalali left for Rawalpindi in 1950 at age sixteen; his father remained in India. For him, Partition seems to have offered an opportunity to evade the father who had inexplicably pushed his mother under a train six years earlier. But even this personal tragedy may not be unconnected to the larger political drama: his father was disturbed by conflict between Hindus and Muslims, and so was Shakeb who turned poet in 1947. Departure proved no balm: At Sargodha in 1966, he threw himself in front of a train. Mohani died in 1951; would he have moved if he had lived longer? Jigar Moradabadi steadfastly stayed but wrote his last volume of poetry about the violence of Partition, criticizing Indians’ role in it with “Bhaag musafir mere watan se mere chaman se bhaag” (“Run stranger, run from my country, my garden”).29 He died in 1960. Why did he not move? Would he have, had he lived longer? Or was his love of country also encapsulated in his line, “Yeh ishq nahin aasaan bus itna samajh leejay/ Ik aag ka dariya hai aur doob ke jaana hai” (“This love is not easy, just understand this much/ it is a river of fire and one must drown to cross”)?

A mix of personal and public, mundane and principled considerations figured in these decisions. But these deferrals and confusions also reveal the existence of an intriguing window of possibility, a span of a few years in which the meaning and future of India and Pakistan were as yet unformed. The confusion and hesitation represent a refusal of Partition, even though poetry’s long grasp of birha as the path to more meaningful union might have made such poets temperamentally more amenable to the notion. Nor were they alone in their tardy and equivocal acceptance of Partition. Oral histories collected by the CAP and the Partition Archive testify to many belated and incomplete departures. Many who did move thought their displacement would only be temporary; they buried jewelry in walls and floors to be retrieved later. Indeed, my own family in Multan stayed put until 1948. Mundane factors figured in that hesitation, but implicit in their consideration of those factors were alternative visions of what Partition was. What broken hopes did belated departure embody? Were these reluctantly partitioned people “indifferent to nation” in the manner of the border peoples of eastern and southern Europe in the same period?30 As my colleague Edith Sheffer asks with respect to the division of Germany, the question is not only when the border on the ground was drawn but when the border in the mind was created.31 Breaking bonds takes time; the Pakistani Progressive Writers’ journals continued to include works by Hindu and Sikh writers in Urdu, until the group was declared illegal in 1954 (although descendants of it remain active today). Is it one of those farces of history that Leftist Muslims poets like Elia gave up on India and left for Pakistan just when the Pakistani state began to crack down on the Left? Faiz was already there, but persecution by the Pakistani state from 1951 drove him into temporary exile in Beirut. (Ahmed Faraz, perhaps the most well-known Communist poet of the next generation, would also try exile before returning to Pakistan.) What alternative visions of South Asian modernity did this collection of latecomers, exiles, and destroyed souls abandon in the 1950s? It is worth recovering those visions for whatever inspiration they may still yield. As Joan Scott observed of E. P. Thompson’s thought, “utopias that permit critical assessment of the present in terms of some deep moral commitment and unleash imaginative longing for a particular kind of future are compatible with, indeed necessary for, practical politics.”32 


To be sure, Partition itself was the product of a utopic plan enacting Enlightenment notions about the rational ordering of society. It promised to produce order out of a religiously and linguistically mixed society. It promised a homeland to those out-of-place in nationalist India. Many who moved did so out of faith in this project, out of conviction, at times against the wishes of their families (most famously, Jinnah’s only daughter did not move). Indeed, the deliberate sacrifice of home and bonds was the price that made the result — participation in the creation of a new nation-state — all the more sacred.33 The poet credited with launching the Pakistan movement, Iqbal, was shaped by education in Germany and Britain. Among his closest friends in Lahore from 1932 was Muhamed Asad, the Austro-Hungarian Jew who opposed Zionism but supported the creation of a Muslim state in South Asia. He had been an advisor to Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in the 1920s—one of that world of European “spies in Arabia” I described in my first book. Like them, he collapsed the tasks of reinventing the Middle East and himself. He would go on to shape Pakistan’s constitution and head the Middle East Division of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My point in invoking Asad is to highlight the cosmopolitan intellectual context in which the idea of Pakistan took shape, however much it was also about the local mission of saving Muslims from domination by non-Muslims. Enlightenment and Romantic notions are dialectically related in this intellectual history. I am merely skimming the surface here, focusing on the chain of influences and sociological bonds to offer a sense of the global production and payoff of these ideas over time, up to our present, as we shall see.


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In promising a national homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, Iqbal’s Pakistan also tried to move beyond nationalism. It was utopic in that ambition, too. Like Tagore, Iqbal denounced the European “modernity” exposed on the Western Front, the way competitive nationalism produced militarism, imperialism, and indifference to religion. His call for Pakistan was intended as a critique of nationalism and an important first step towards a post-nationalistic postwar world. Muslim political autonomy would foster in one place a less divided and exploitative society on the basis of an Islamic moral system that would serve Muslims and non-Muslims alike.34 (His notions of the unity of Islam were authentically his but also shaped by Romantic Orientalist notions he absorbed in Europe.) Indeed, although we take Partition as synonymous with the mass migration it entailed, mass migration was not part of the plan, even as late as the early 1940s. The idea was rather to create autonomous Muslim-majority areas in which Hindus and Sikhs would remain, while Muslims would remain in areas in which they were minorities. Then came the idea of splitting Muslim-majority provinces. The idea of mass eviction and migration only came in March 1947 when riots in Rawalpindi enforced the notion that minorities did not belong in the lands that had now been designated Muslim or non-Muslim.35 In the 1930s, Iqbal was thinking outside the box of nationalism, whatever the ironic appropriation of his goal for nationalistic purposes.

The India that was to result from the creation of Pakistan was also imagined through the lens of modern rationality. Even Indians who regret Partition speak approvingly of a purer nation formed through the sacrifice of dismemberment. The journalist Alpana Kishore argues that without Partition, India would have gone on wrestling with an unresolved demand for a Muslim nation-state; it would have been haunted by the specter of partition and the very different vision of national development embraced by Pakistan’s founders.36 This recalls B. R. Ambedkar’s views on Pakistan. He too was an anti-colonial thinker who was simultaneously critical of the nation-state. Yet, he saw Partition as unavoidable once the demand had been raised (and given his own notions of Muslim difference); to refuse it would simply endanger the new republic with the constant threat of civil war.37 (Arguably, in the end, Partition has haunted India anyway.)

But besides these rationalist-idealist visions of a postcolonial Pakistan and India, other utopic visions were also available, for a time. Some saw an equally post-nationalist utopic prospect in the challenge of unifying a subcontinent that, they acknowledged, was divided. The poet Mohamed Ali Jauhar emerged as a leader of the Khilafat movement. As president of the Congress party in 1923, he said,

I had long been convinced that here in this Country of hundreds of millions of human beings, intensely attached to religion, and yet infinitely split up into communities, sects and denominations, Providence had created for us the mission of solving a unique problem and working out a new synthesis, which was nothing low than a Federation of Faiths… For more than twenty years I have dreamed the dream of a federation, grander, nobler and infinitely more spiritual than the United States of America, and today when many a political Cassandra prophesies a return to the bad old days of Hindu-Muslim dissensions I still dream that old dream of “United Faiths of India.”38 

Like Mohani and Bismil, he became disillusioned with Congress and Gandhi’s leadership in the early 1920s. He attended the First Round Table Conference in London in 1930-31 (Gandhi attended the one later in 1931, visiting the Thompsons while there). He died in England and was buried in Jerusalem, at his own request. Would he have remained in India or moved to Pakistan in 1947? Or later? Or would his survival have made his utopic dream a more viable possibility?

Others perceived a different utopia: the idea of an India that possessed an inherent unity even in its diversity, that was a single nation, which Partition violated. Husain Ahmad Madani saw imperialism as the disrupter of religiously plural societies that had their own integrity (Iqbal argued that it severed ethnically distinct Muslims who might otherwise have been united around their shared religion).39 Much Indian historical writing is in this vein and has found it difficult to escape the obligation to demonstrate that oneness. This is partly because, apart from the Ambedkar approach, it was difficult for Indians to read Partition as anything but loss; Pakistanis, however nostalgic, could at least pin hope on the strength of having created something new. To some Pakistanis, India is a dreamlike homeland, an origin story more than a land from which they are exiled.40 Still, many survivors of Partition on both sides recall untroubled pre-Partition times marked by inter-communal harmony. At times for elites from cosmopolitan settings nostalgia for the Raj is part of this mix; at times joint resistance to it. At times the Unionist Party’s popularity under Sir Sikander Hyat Khan, a close associate of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, in the 1930s is recalled as proof of the existence of a culturally and politically unified Punjab betrayed by higher politicians (at other times its social conservatism and loyalty to the Raj recalled as liabilities), even though the pressure of maintaining that unity against the competing forces of the League, Congress, and the British was probably what killed Sikander Hyat Khan in December 1946. We have no way of gauging the accuracy of memories untroubled pre-Partition harmony, but as Anam Zakaria and other collectors of oral histories note, “memory and how people choose to remember certain events is as important as historical facts themselves.”41 Indeed, some memories were shaped by dismay at the violent change Partition wrought. Even those who did not move witnessed destruction of their communities and the arrival of new, tormented faces, a transformation that made some see the struggle as a waste. At the same time that the Pakistani state whitewashes Sikh history in Punjab — literally in the case of the frescoes at the entrance of the Dera Sahab complex in Lahore42 — we hear of Pakistanis who miss Diwali and Eastern Punjabis who miss Eid. It is true that many communities have coexisted in India and that Partition included many acts of inter-communal kindness. But equally true is the fact that in the end, Congress wanted partition, and that, since 1947, community has again and again been constituted through violence in India—impossible facts for those committed to the notion of an eternally unified India betrayed only by Jinnah and the League.43 

But apart from nostalgia for a lost utopia, even after Partition, many imagined the possibility for a unique international friendship between the two nations, in which the border was in fact a bridge permitting connection and communication. Deferrals or reversals of the decision to stay or move, indicated by late departure or ongoing maintenance of bi-national existence for business and family reasons, are perhaps most symptomatic of this outlook. They represent a willful and wishful belief in the prerogative to remain locally and privately rather than nationally embedded as long as it was practicable. It was certainly not obvious that Partition would mean total severance of connection. And in fact, many crossed legally without much obstruction until the 1965 war; border communities continued to engage in common celebrations of Baisakhi. Others crossed illegally between bordering villages, like Germans in the early years of the Cold War. Zakaria’s collection of oral histories includes the poignant case of Muhammad Boota who repeatedly crossed from his adopted village in Pakistan into his old village in Indian Punjab to search for a Sikh girl he had loved. As in the great qissas (romantic epics like Waris Shah’s), he never found her but remained devoted to her.44 The border became more clearly demarcated and impassable after the wars of 1965 and 1971, but even then, through 1986 no line or wire demarcated the border near Kasur villages, and people crossed accidentally.45 


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Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there was the utopic belief that borders did not change anything, even when they became impassable, that an un-severable regional unity transcends the experience and fact of Partition. Here it is crucial to remember that the Indian and Pakistani dream for nation-statehood was fulfilled in a moment in which the entire system of nation-states was in severe crisis, with displaced minorities emerging in the Middle East and Europe.46 This context shaped calls to rise above both nationalism and borders. Maulana Azad (who tried his hand at poetry too in his younger days) insisted even after Partition on the existence of a “composite culture,” shared among all and possessing secular and cosmopolitan dimensions. He was a nationalist, in the sense of believing in the reality of an Indian nation that could stand independently of British rule, but also grasped the dangers nationalism produced for minorities. His solution was to refuse a politics based on fear—to refuse to fear for the fate of a Muslim minority in independent India and to refuse the very notion of a Muslim “minority.” This “leap of faith” marks the “secularism of Azad’s public life,” explains Amir Mufti.47 He articulated this complex vision in a speech in October 1947 in Jama Masjid in Delhi, which persuaded many Muslims there to stay, just when nationalism was violently reorganizing the region into new nation-states.

Those who articulated such visions at once perceived their vulnerability, their increasingly outdated utopian nature. They knew that refusing nationalism’s disruption of pluralism was its own kind of madness, reminiscent of Bishan Singh’s stubborn attachment to the no man’s land of Toba Tek Singh. But while Manto’s story encapsulated that madness in a dark, Chekhovian manner, such madness found a different kind of sanction in the Urdu poetic tradition, where it seemed less the breakdown of reason than the typically hopeless (but no longer melancholic or politically passive) idealism of the poetic subject, the lover. They were the farzaane (learned, wise men) who double as deewane (mad, inspired men) in Jagannath Azad’s ghazal titled, “15 August 1947”: “Na puchho jab bahar aayi to deewanon pe kya guzari/ Zara dekho ki is mausam mein farzaanon pe kya guzari” (“Don’t ask what befell the mad (the lovers) when spring came/ Just look at what befell the wise in this season”). With the plural “deewane,” the sher (verse) embraces the world of Azad’s fellow poets, his friends, as the losers of this history. And indeed the friendship among poets was one critical way in which the border was rendered meaningless, at least for some, especially those who chose to see it as a temporary inconvenience on the way to a future goal that they knew would transcend all borders. While Faiz continued his political and poetic pursuits in Pakistan, his friend Makhdoom Mohiuddin of Hyderabad pursued poetry, lyric-writing for the film industry, labor activism, CPI leadership, trades union activism, and activities with the PWA and Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and was a primary leader of the Telangana Rebellion from 1946-50, the rebellion of peasants against Telangana landlords and the Nizam of Hyderabad. He also inaugurated the short-lived Paritala Republic. Jailed in 1951 — like Faiz in Pakistan — he wrote the poem, “Qaid” (“Imprisonment”). On his release, he fought elections and joined parliament, participating in the national political process as a member of the CPI. For these poet-activists, Partition was a tragic yet transient event in a longer struggle for far more radical ends. It was inconclusive. And their agreement on that across the border, their continued solidarity, was a mutual affirmation. When Makhdoom died in 1969, Faiz composed a poetic homage adapting his friend’s celebrated ghazal, “Aap ki yaad aati rahi raat bhar” (“Your memory came to me all the night long”). Both versions can be read on multiple levels, as all ghazals, but let me offer a suggestive reading of the maqta (last verse) in each. Makhdoom’s ended, “Koi deewaana galiyon mein phirta raha/ Koi awaaz aati rahi raat bhar” (“Some madman (lover) wandered in the streets/ Some sound came all the night long”), evoking the eternal beckoning of some ideal in the darkness, towards which the poet-as-agent-of-history fumbles, perhaps never reaching it. It is at once near yet out of reach. Faiz’s version ended, “Ek umeed se dil behelta raha/ Ek tamanna sataati rahi raat bhar” (“The heart amused itself with a hope/ A wish tormented (me) all the night long”), evoking the desire for communion with a friend who is now impossibly far, in classic Sufi fashion, but also perhaps a memory of their shared, incomplete pursuit: the soothingly idealistic hope for a more humane future that is simultaneously agitating, despite our knowledge that it is an ideal and thus unachievable. For those entangled in this border-transgressing literary and political community, Partition was not a stopping ground; it could not be allowed to become a stopping ground. As Faiz wrote, reflecting on 1947 in 1951, “Chale chalo ki woh manzil abhi nahi aayi” (“Let us keep going, for that destination has not yet come”). To be sure, the notion of a long, joint journey ahead, despite borders, was also a mechanism for coping with the actual trauma of Partition, which Faiz genuinely felt; he considered it “too Big” to cope with in poetry apart from his attempt in that 1951 poem, “Subah-e-Azadi” (“Freedom’s Dawn”) (although in allusive ways he did in other works too, I believe).48 

One might reasonably interpret this indifference to borders as a form of denial, as fantasy. Arguably works like “Toba Tek Singh” engaged in precisely such fantasy, as literary form, whatever Manto’s commitments to social realism. Fantasy is a “departure from consensus reality,” in the words of one literary scholar,49 and belief in the immateriality of the border was a departure from the consensus reality of Pakistani and Indian nation-statehood. More than fantasy, however, it was romance, as articulated clearly in Faiz and Makhdoom’s couplets above. The unattainable end – utopia itself – was a reworking of birha in its own way, as was the experience of Partition itself.

Poets’ aloofness from Partition helps explain why post-Partition Urdu poetry continued to invoke an extra-national geography: the Leftist Pakistani poet Ibn-e-Insha (born in Jalandar in 1927), composed “Tu Kahan Chali Gayi Thi” (“Where Had You Gone”) in the 1950s, gesturing with equal ease towards Karachi and Delhi. Nazir Qaiser’s poetry is as ecumenical in its geography. Shiv Kumar Batalvi (often referred to as Punjab’s Byron) drew on the ancient epic about Puran Bhagat of Sialkot for his epic verse play, Loona in 1965. Jagannath Azad came to India, but his poetry dwelled on memories of his homeland, his lost chaman (garden). While in Pakistan on his first post-Partition visit in 1948, he wrote the celebrated couplet, “Main apne ghar mein aaya hoon magar andaaz to dekho/ Ke apne aap ko manind-e-mehman leke aaya hoon” (I have come into my own home, but look in what manner/ For I have brought myself like a guest”). It remained his home. Alienated as he was, he was still not a guest but guest-like. He was split into both host and guest, at once at home and not at home, desi and pardesi. Pakistani poets also continued to reach for the non-Islamic but (idol) and puja (worship, implying idol worship) on which the ironic idiom of Urdu poetry depends, despite the vanishing, ghostlike presence of such things in their midst. Indeed, in a sense the entire Indo-Islamic poetic tradition presumes a world of Muslims coexisting with non-Muslims to dramatize the ironies of worldly and unworldly faith at its core. (Sikh identity markers similarly presume a mixed social context; else why the need for distinguishing markers?) This literary transcendence of Partition mirrored socio-cultural continuities such as the celebrations of “Indian” festivals among Pakistanis near the border.50 As Zakaria notes, even those who left out of conviction felt a bond with the “home” they abandoned because of ongoing relationships and memories: “There is not clear line for these people; it is difficult to decipher what they love more, where they belong more. This confusion is the only truth for them.”51 If the goal was a coherent national self, the result was a population of divided selves. The exile, the refugee, the orphaned, the converted, the abducted-and-reclaimed — all these survivors were in different ways split — in many cases violently split, even shredded selves. Permit me a metaphor from physics: In quantum theory, the uncertain, non-deterministic, smeared nature of electrons helps explain the stability of atoms; similarly, the stability of South Asian identity depends on a kind of indeterminacy. Punjabis in particular seem smeared through space. Nations are like the impossibly rigid atomic structures of classical mechanics; they cannot contain such uncertainty: Makhdoom and Faiz were both literally in captivity in independent India and Pakistan in 1951.


Gyanendra Pandey calls on historians to explore the meaning of Partition in terms of what it produced — the social arrangements, forms of consciousness, subjectivities it created — rather than focusing obsessively on causes, a focus betraying Indian historians’ commitments to particular utopic visions of India.52 Curiously, as Rakhshanda Jalil notes, Urdu poets focus more on the consequences of Partition than its causes.53 To me, their preoccupation with effects reveals their sense of the epiphenomenal and possibly transient nature of Partition — their preoccupation with other utopias, unfinished business that Partition traumatically disrupted. Pandey might find in poetry if not historical writing the earliest analysis of what Partition did to subjectivity and consciousness — quite apart from the human destruction it unleashed.

Here again we find intriguing intersections with shifting subjectivities in Europe. Enlightenment notions of a coherent, rational self had long since smothered notions of an internally split self among Europeans. Early versions of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments had described a divided or doubled self which became more metaphorical and less literal in later versions, once the notion of an individuated, internally coherent modern self took hold in the late eighteenth century.54 The turn of the twentieth century saw new testing of this concept, most conspicuously in metropolitan occultist circles who experimented with the relationship of self to Other, albeit now locating the “split” internally, in the psychology and neurobiology of the individual, rather than in the operation of social claims on the individual. Theosophists were part of this cultural world, most notably Annie Besant, whose journey from turn-of-the-century British socialism (she famously led the matchgirl strike in London in 1888) to prominent leader in the Indian nationalist movement was inseparable from her explorations of spirituality and selfhood.55 She too was mixed up in the world of poet-activists, joining the poet Sarojini Naidu in representing in London the case for Indian women to vote. (Naidu was a Bengali from Hyderabad who joined the national movement after the 1905 partition of Bengal and became the second woman to preside over Congress after Besant. She was governor of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh in 1947-49 when Urdu poets there deliberated staying or going.)

Now, the subject of Urdu poetry had long been understood as split. This was what Sufi longing for union was about. Momin’s much-loved couplet is exemplary: “Tum mere paas hote ho goya/ jab koi doosra nahin hota” (You are with me thus/ as when no second person is there). In true mystic union, the self becomes extinct. This idiom seems ready-made to address the post-Partition condition of a partial, parted, or divided self. Urdu as a poetic language figured critically in the articulation of this subjectivity. As Mufti shows in his beautiful analysis of Faiz’s poetry, Indianness has come to encompass the disavowal of Indianness (like the electron that both is and isn’t). Mufti cites, paradigmatically, Faiz’s “Marsia” (“Elegy”) from a 1971 collection: “Dur ja kar qarib ho jitney/ ham se kab qarib the itne/ Ab na aoge tum na jaoge/ vasl o hijran baham hue kitne” (“The extent to which you are close now that you have gone far/ when were you ever so close to me/ Now you will neither come nor go/ how as one union and separation have become”). In this four-line poem, Mufti perceives a dialectic of self and other in which the subject and object of desire do not so much become one but simultaneously come near and become distant and are rendered uncertain. It recalls Zakaria’s story of a man in a Pakistani village who daily sees his old village across the border56—it is at once near and far. This is the reality of modern Punjabi subjectivity: contradictory, tense, antagonistic. Faiz’s grasp of this dialectically produced self clearly resonated; his work has remained phenomenally popular across the region. As Mufti explains, he articulated an “Indian” experience of the self that took division seriously and yet transcended borders and communal and national divides, much as he tried to do in his own literary and political commitments. After all, he worked within an idiom in which indefinite separation from the beloved was the only ground from which to contemplate union. He subversively renders the abandoned home as the beloved, rather than a heathen land virtuously abandoned—inverting the religious interpretation of Partition as hijrat (in the sense of the Holy Prophet’s flight from Mecca to Medina). Urdu could uniquely convey the reality of this split self, nurtured in Pakistan where it was cut off from its homelands in Delhi, the Deccan, and UP, where Urdu’s status simultaneously declined. Poets’ worldly experience of exile and refuge gave hijr (separation, departure) a range of new, secular connotations, notes Mufti.57 Faiz’s agonistic embrace of that inheritance is a South Asian expression of modernity, at once reminding us of the worldly basis of religious experience itself—what early Punjabi romances expressed as allegory, or, in the language of the Punjabi tappa (folk lyric): “Milna taan rab nu hai, tera pyaar bahaana hai” (“It is with God that I seek to unite, your love is merely the pretext”). For long, poets have grasped the instrumental nature of worldly experience for the sake of higher spiritual experience. The persistence of that mystical idiom, and the love successive generations profess for it, reveals the continued intimacy of the secular, modern self with its religious inheritance. In this too, modern South Asian subjectivity senses its incompleteness, its exilic existence.58 In short, we can’t think of post-Partition identity only in the terms of the normalized vocabulary of the new nation-states, presuming autonomous national selves based on the European template. (Progressive Writers attached to such requirements of normality were the kind who, Mufti speculates, suddenly turned against Manto, whose work and affect fell beyond that pale.59 )


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The possibility of transcending national identity within oneself is powerful. For E. P. Thompson (in Scott’s luminous interpretation, again), poetry’s role was to “leaven politics with imagination,” to suggest a “middle ground between…disenchantment with perfectionist illusions and complete apostasy. That ground is the demanding, yet creative place of continuing aspiration.”60 The work of continuing aspiration is the work of Azad’s deewane. The split South Asian self is the middle ground poets gave us between disenchantment and apostasy. It is Beckett’s, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” and Gramsci’s mantra-like, “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” The New Left that Thompson helped form in England after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 attracted the communist, atheist, and anti-imperialist Pakistani Tariq Ali, the grandson of Sikandar Hayat Khan and an important interlocutor of Edward Said, another deep thinker about exile and anti-colonialism who met Faiz in Beirut. Ali’s anti-imperialist critiques were as globally sweeping as Faiz’s poetry about Chile, Palestine, Namibia, and the Rosenbergs. Talal Asad, son of Mohamed Asad, has emerged a major thinker about religion and secularism. The chain of inheritance and restless, continuing aspiration is long.

Thompson went to India for the first time in 1976, after our poets’ alternative visions had long expired. He was warmly welcomed by Indira Gandhi and her government in acknowledgement of the friendship between their fathers. But it was the time of Indira’s Emergency. He was horrified by the government’s repression of dissent and by the CPI’s support of it and noted the strange convergence of Western “modernizing theory” with orthodox Moscow-directed socialist theory: Both imagined a modern urban intellectual elite with know-how imposing modernity and progress upon the nation. Both prioritized top-down, capital-intensive technologically-driven developments depending on a disciplined workforce for national economic take-off. Through a vulgar (i.e. un-poetic) economic determinism, Marxism echoed utilitarian and positivist ideas.61 Politics without poetry is lifeless, and poetry without politics tends to the self-indulgent. It is the same in Pakistan: I was fortunate enough to meet Jazib Qureshi sahib recently, through the genius of the Bay Area’s Urdu Academy, and he commented on the absence of poets of real standing in today’s Pakistan, no one to fill the shoes of Josh or Iqbal. If modern Urdu poetry evolved as critique — of empire and nation — it is no surprise that as the Left has crumbled so has poetry’s most powerfully transcendent function. Modi’s India is bent on suffocating the Left further. India’s poets are returning their national awards in the face of the government’s thuggish attacks on dissent of all kinds, rediscovering their role in history and outside exclusionist mainstream nationalism.62 As we continue to look to technology to save us, despite the unending disasters that pile up before our eyes, it is time perhaps to revisit and reinvent the possibility and promise of poetic action. Poetry is a social and collective endeavor; the writer alone cannot make poetry or poetic action. In Urdu poetry, the reader identifies entirely with the first-person voice of the poet. The poet’s place in history becomes the reader’s too.


This possibility for such total identification, for a kind of subsumption in the poet, is astonishingly universal. I identify with the “Hum” of Faiz’s poetry, even though (on the face of it) I am a woman, a Hindu, and an Indian Punjabi (where he was a man, a Muslim, and a Pakistani Punjabi). Urdu poetry is “queer” in this sense: a space of non-normative identity and politics.63 And yet, it could not attend to the plight of Heer. When Jagannath Azad was leaving Pakistan after a visit to return to India, Muhammad Tufail, editor of the Pakistani Progressive literary journal Nuqush, took sweets to him at the station, quipping, “Tumhein to yun rukhsat karte hain jaise beti ko rukhsat kiya jaata hai” (“You we send away in the way one sends off a daughter”64 ). Instead of separation from a beloved of unspecified gender, he rendered Azad’s exile from his homeland in the more clearly gendered form of the daughter leaving her parents’ home to join her new family after marriage—a rite common to Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim weddings in the region. Playing on the land-as-mother trope, the departure becomes forward-looking, a rite of passage to adulthood—progress itself. It is more final than the beloved’s separation, but also less rigid, in that a girl can and does go back to her old home at times, albeit to be indulged as a guest with few substantive entitlements. But Tufail’s line also reminds us that, however vaguely gendered the poetic terms in which Faiz and others wrote about it, Partition’s violence was deeply gendered. Amrita Pritam’s plea to Waris Shah and Manto’s stories, like “Khol Do” (“Open It”). acknowledged that reality. So too has scholarly work on Partition by Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon, Kamla Bhasin, Veena Das, and others. They diagnose the complicity of the two new states in appropriating the violence that was done to women within an ideology of community and nation.

Shiv Kumar Batalvi (born in 1936) may have been activated by such themes in his recuperation of women’s agency and sexuality in Loona, his celebrated retelling of the ancient epic of Puran Bhagat in 1965. Stylistically, he was influenced by the qissas as well as European epic poetry. The legend goes that the Sialkot prince Puran Bhagat spurned the advances of his young stepmother, Loona, a sinfully lustful seductress, who wreaked violent revenge: his arms and legs were amputated and he wound up exiled from his home, becoming an ascetic who later forgave and blessed his punishers. But Batalvi tells the story from Loona’s point of view: the disgust of this lower-caste young girl from Chamba at being married to an old king against her wishes, her entirely reasonable desire to be with a man her own age, Puran’s rejection of her out of suspicion of the merely sexual rather than spiritual nature of her attraction, and her self-sacrificial revenge. For, her destruction of Puran is her own, too; she knows she will live in infamy for it, but hopes that her infamy might prevent society from producing forcing future Loonas to marry against their will. Having borne the blame for Puran’s death for centuries, Loona finally finds peace in Batalvi’s play. Known for his passionate expression of the agony of separated lovers, here Batalvi redeems worldly love and the rebellion of youth.65 Here the punishing violence of partition is visited on a male body, with Puran’s dismemberment and exile. In blaming society rather than Loona for this tragic outcome, Batalvi at once exonerates the individual perpetrator of violence (whatever her gender) while validating all Punjabi women’s need and desire for such revenge. He renders the Punjabi subject of history as female. Notably, he published this earthily Punjabi work on the eve of the repartitioning of Indian Punjab on linguistic lines, when other Punjabi Hindus claimed Hindi rather than Punjabi as their mother tongue, a choice made possible by the longstanding elision of Hindi with Urdu.


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Loona was the “Patakha Guddi” (“Firecracker Kite/Girl”) of her time (a song penned by the poet Irshad Kamil, a Muslim from Malerkotla in Indian Punjab and sung by Jyoti and Sultana Nooran (Punjabi Muslims from Jalander)).66 She is the poet of her own destiny. She lives her contradiction as a means of superseding loss, a way of living as if in exile even when at home, as Maulana Azad felt he did, given his particular background and education and relationship to “Muslim” and nationalist politics in his time.67 Modern Urdu writing, having displaced the relationship of language and self to place as Mufti tells us, is a vehicle for exilic thinking, an awareness, wherever one happens to be, that modern history has been one of marginalization and uprooting on a massive scale, that split selfhoods are typical, in South Asia, but also in Germany, the Balkans, Cyprus, Palestine/Israel, Ireland, and elsewhere.68 

What is the poet’s role in history? Of course the question is romantic. Byron was Romantic; Thompson was Romantic; Faiz was romantic; Punjabis are romantic; land is romantic. And Romanticism has its dangers: the British were Romantic; Nehru was Romantic; Silicon Valley is a Romance. Dams and drones are romantic. The Hindu Right and the Islamic Right offer romances of their own. There is a marketplace of Romance, but the Romance of the Left has too long been out of stock. Bollywood can’t do it alone, and it too after all is bound up in the worship of profit, god, and nation.

*                                *                                   *

Priya Satia is Associate Professor of History at Stanford University and the prize-winning author of Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East (OUP, 2008). She has completed a new book provisionally titled, “Empire of Guns: The British State, the Industrial Revolution, and the Conscience of a Quaker Arms-Maker.” Her work has also appeared in Past & Present, American Historical Review, Technology and Culture, Humanity, History Workshop Journal, and several edited volumes and in popular media such as the Financial Times, the TLS, Nation, Slate.com, and elsewhere.


  1. This essay has benefited from conversations with countless individuals over time, but I would like to thank here particularly Guneeta Singh Bhalla, Hamida Chopra, Arie Dubnov, Sadaf Jaffer, Aishwary Kumar, Aprajit Mahajan, Ana Minian, Ishmeet Narula, Nazir Qaiser, Jazib Qureshi, Jagat and Indira Satia, Sudipta Sen, Nishita Sharma, Edith Sheffer, Bikramjit Singh, Pashaura Singh, Poonam Singh, Tashie and Naheed Zaheer, Anam Zakaria, and the editors at Tanqeed. []
  2. Joan Scott, “Women in The Making of the English Working Class,” in Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1999 (orig. 1988), 80-81, citing Henry Abelove. []
  3. E. P. Thompson, “The Nehru Tradition,” in Writing by Candlelight (London, 1980), 138. []
  4. I have written about this at length in “Byron, Gandhi, and the Thompsons: The Making of British Social History and Unmaking of Indian History,” History Workshop Journal, forthcoming 2016. []
  5. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York, 1966 (orig. 1963), 13. []
  6. I am painfully aware that I write cursorily here about subjects that others have researched at great length.See for instance the work of Veena Das, Ashish Nandy, Ravinder Kaur, Bhaskar Sarkar, Gyanendra Pandey, Mushirul Hasan, Yasmin Khan, Neeti Nair, Jisha Menon, Faisal Devji, Lucy Chester, David Gilmartin, Vazira Zamindar, to name just a few—not to mention the vast corpus of work on Kashmir and the Bengal side of Partition. []
  7. James Hevia, description of his research project, https://history.uchicago.edu/directory/james-hevia. []
  8. Alpana Kishore told Anam Zakaria that certain Punjabi cultural traits, like irreverence, help explain why they do not take Partition “seriously” and instead push it aside. Their grandparents had moved abruptly beyond it, and a long history of invasions through the region also desensitized them. The Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians (New Delhi, 2015), 165. But the sensitivity captured in volumes of oral histories Zakaria and the Partition Archive have collected belie this suggestion. The cavalierness towards Partition is more complex; it is certainly rooted in the sense of a long history of displacement, but there is “baggage” aplenty. On Afghans as “imperial cosmopolitans” too, see Robert Crews, Afghan Modern: A Global History of a Nation (Cambridge, MA, 2015). []
  9. On Partition in Indian cinema, see Bhaskar Sarkar, Mourning the Nation: Indian Cinema in the Wake of Partition (Durham, NC, 2009). Sarkar also notes the Partition-inflected personal backgrounds shaping cinema (119). Yash Chopra did not see any connection between Partition and “Waqt,” his 1965 film in which a family is separated by an earthquake, a natural cracking of the land that might easily be read as an allegory for Partition. Nor did his brother B. R. Chopra, who produced it. Yash did think many Hindi films dealt with Partition but could name only a few. His brother, on the other hand, felt the industry avoided the topic, confirming Sarkar’s impression of the paucity of films about Partition. Still B. R. agreed with his brother in discounting allegorical interpretations of popular films. Sarkar concluded that Yash’s impression that Partition had often been an explicit subject of Hindi films was based on the many oblique depictions of it (120-21). He diagnoses the industry as simultaneously repressing and representing Partition (124). Most well known among films addressing Partition directly are the films of Ritwik Ghatak, the TV film “Tamas” (1988), based on Bhisham Sahni’s 1974 novel of that name, and the film, “Garam Hawa” (1973) (based on a story by Ismat Chugtai). Deepa Mehta’s “Earth”/”1947” based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel, CrackingIndia, is also in this category, as is “Train to Pakistan” (1998), based on Khushwant Singh’s 1956 novel of the same name. The close bond between literature and these films is notable. Of course, there has been a spate of more recent film on the Indo-Pak border, such as “Gadar,” “Veer Zara,” “Bajrangi Bhaijaan,” besides the more military-focused ones like “Border,” “LOC,” and so on. The “split self” described later in the essay finds its echo in the double-roles that have been so popular in Hindi films. []
  10. Scott, “Women in The Making,” 83. []
  11. Poonam Singh, editor of Preet Lari, personal communication, Oct. 27, 2015. []
  12. Gurbaksh Singh had visited California while studying in the United States and was watched by British intelligence, but showed few signs of his later radicalism then. Personal communication from Pashaura Singh. []
  13. Akshaya Kumar, Poetry, Politics and Culture: Essays on Indian Texts and Contexts (Delhi, 2009), 214-8; Rakhshanda Jalil, Liking Progress, Loving Change (Delhi, 2014), 75. The Ghadar Party split between communist and anti-communist factions after the war. I also thank Bikramjit Singh for his personal memories on this subject. Preet Lari remains in print today, with its headquarters still at Preet Nagar. Note that further northwest too, the Left offered an alternative vision: In 1930, the Red Shirt Movement began in the North West Frontier Province, joining forces with Congress’s non-violence. []
  14. Geeta Patel, Lyrical Movements, Historical Hauntings: On Gender, Colonialism, and Desire in Miraji’s Urdu Poetry (Stanford, 2002), 98; Jalil, Liking Progress, chapt. 4. For more on the way their time in Europe shaped Zaheer and Mahmuduzzafar, see Jalil, Liking Progress, 109-112. []
  15. See note 19 below. []
  16. Shabana Mahmud, “Angare and the Founding of the Progressive Writers’ Association,” Modern Asian Studies 30:2 (1996): 447-467; Jalil, Liking Progress, 247. Only five copies of the book survived, two making their way to the Oriental Library in London. In 2014 Penguin India and Rupa Publications brought out an English translation. []
  17. On Urdu-Hindi, see Alok Rai, Hindi Nationalism (2001); Amrit Rai, A House Divided: The Origin and Development of Hindi/Hindavi (1985); Christopher King, One Language, Two Scripts: The Hindi Movement in Nineteenth Century North India (1999); Kavita Datla, The Language of Secular Islam: Urdu Nationalism and Colonial India (2013); Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 140-153; Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Early Urdu Literary Culture and History (2001); Ajmal Kamal, “A Critique of Language Snobs: Urdu and the Politics of Identity,” Tanqeed.org, Feb. 2015, available at http://www.tanqeed.org/2015/02/the-uses-and-abuses-of-language-snobs-urdu-and-the-politics-of-identity/.The abandonment of Punjabi among Hindus in India and Muslims in Pakistan is an enormous question bound up with partitions of the twentieth century. On the related matter of the languages lost as a result of Partition, see: http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/partition-impacted-on-several-languages-114042600817_1.html []
  18. Amir Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture (Princeton, 2007), 180; Patel, Lyrical Movements, 89. []
  19. Frances Pritchett, Nets of Awareness: Urdu Poetry and Its Critics (Berkeley, 1994), 146-7, 154, 167. The historian and parliamentarian Thomas Macaulay served in the supreme council of the East India Company from 1834 to 1838, overseeing major educational and legal reforms. His 1835 “Minute on Indian Education” was a rebuttal to council members who believed that Indian students should continue to be educated in Sanskrit and Arabic as well as English; his view won. []
  20. See also Jalil, Liking Progress, chapt. 1. My introduction to several of the poets mentioned in the next pages came through the Urdu Academy of the Bay Area (organized by Tashie Zaheer) and the Bay Area mushairas organized by Hamida Chopra. []
  21. An earlier version of this article identified incorrect source material on an alleged exchange between Ghalib and Marx. That has been removed. []
  22. Jalil, Liking Progress, chapt. 2. []
  23. Priya Satia, Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East (New York, 2008), chapt. 6. Jalil notes the British surveillance of the Progressive Writers’ Association in Liking Progress, chapt. 5. []
  24. See Hafeez Malik, “The Marxist Literary Movement in India and Pakistan,” Association for Asian Studies 26 (1967), p. 655. Makhdoom Mohiuddin felt similarly. []
  25. I thank Sadaf Jaffer for this observation. []
  26. Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 201-2. []
  27. Gyanendra Pandey, Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India (Cambridge, 2001), 170. There are also non-writerly examples of artistic wavering on nation: Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan moved to Pakistan, but then returned to India. I will leave for another essay an analysis of Indian Punjabi musicians of this era, from Madan Mohan to Jagjit Singh to Ayushman Khurana and how their particular paths shaped their articulation of Punjabiyat. []
  28. Azad did not meet Iqbal himself. His father the poet Trilok Chand Mahroom was a friend of Iqbal. When the latter returned to India from Europe in 1918, Mehroom wrote him a letter including a poem, “Aana tera mubarak Europe se aane waale,” incorporating references to “Tarana-i-Hind.” Hamida Chopra, lecture, mushaira, India Community Center, Milpitas, CA, Aug. 23, 2015. []
  29. All translations in this essay are my own. For poetry, I have tried to give literal translations preserving the syntax rather than literary translations conveying deeper meanings. []
  30. Peter Judson, Guardians of the Nation: Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria (Cambridge, MA, 2007); Pamela Ballinger, History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans (Princeton, 2002). []
  31. Edith Sheffer, Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain (New York, 2011). Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar has analyzed the making of the western Indo-Pak border in response to the refugee crisis and the way national difference was constructed there, in that space of most blurred identity, over time. The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories (New York, 2007). []
  32. Scott, “Women in The Making,” 80. []
  33. See oral histories in Zakaria, Footprints of Partition, 81, 118. On Pakistan as a utopian ideal, see also Pandey, Remembering Partition, 27-30. []
  34. Barbara Metcalf, Husain Ahmad Madani: The Jihad for Islam and India’s Freedom (Oxford, 2009), 114. []
  35. Pandey, Remembering Partition, 26-32. []
  36. Zakaria, Footprints of Partition, 169. []
  37. Ambedkar, Thoughts on Pakistan, 1941; Pakistan, or Partition of India, 1944; Aishwary Kumar, Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy (Stanford, 2015), 242-7. []
  38. Mohamed Ali Jauhar, 1923, reproduced in Sources of Indian Tradition: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, ed. Rachel Fell McDermott (New York, 2013), 409. []
  39. Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 164, 175-6; Metcalf, Husain Ahmad Madani, 114, 118. []
  40. Zakaria, Footprints of Partition, 95, 105, 124. []
  41. Zakaria, Footprints of Partition, 79. []
  42. Nadhra Khan, “Lahore Revisited: The City and Its Nineteenth Century Guidebook,” lecture, August 30, 2015, Indian Community Center, Milpitas, CA. []
  43. As Pandey notes, violence did not “accompany” Partition; it was constitutive of it. Pandey, Remembering Partition, 3-4, 48, 52, 64. See also Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 175. []
  44. Zakaria, Footprints of Partition, 18. See also story of Ghulam Ali in Zamindar, Long Partition, 1-2. []
  45. Zakaria, Footprints of Partition, 27-8. []
  46. Mufti notes that nationalism has historically been “a great disrupter of social and cultural relations,” setting forth “an entire dynamic of inclusion and exclusion within the very social formation that it claims as uniquely its own and with which it declares itself identical.” By rendering some part of that formation as “minority,” it renders that group potentially movable. Thus, it has historically been a force for violent displacement. Enlightenment in the Colony, 13. []
  47. Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 165. []
  48. Jalil, Liking Progress, 276n74. Faiz did not think he wrote about Partition beyond this 1951 poem. Jalil, Liking Progress, 276n74. On the CPI’s shifting views of Partition, see 348-50. []
  49. Kathryn Hume, Fantasy and Mimesis: Responses to Reality in Western Literature (New York, 1984), 21, quoted in Karline McLain, “The Fantastic as Frontier: Realism, the Fantastic, and Transgression in Mid-Twentieth Century Urdu Fiction,” Annual of Urdu Studies 16 (2001): 139-165. []
  50. Riyaz Wani, interview with Anam Zakaria, Tehelka.com, Sept. 5, 2015, available at:  http://www.tehelka.com/2015/08/i-hope-my-stories-can-challenge-the-perception-of-india-pakistan-relations-anam-zakaria/. []
  51. Zakaria, Footprints of Partition, 84. []
  52. Pandey, Remembering Partition, 50. []
  53. Jalil, Liking Progress, 334. []
  54. See Dror Wahrman, The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven, CT, 2006). []
  55. Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago, 1992), 70. []
  56. Zakaria, Footprints of Partition, 29. A similar phenomenon transpires on the German border towns Sheffer describes. Burned Bridge. []
  57. Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 211-2, 216, 221-4, 239, 243. []
  58. On this see also Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 222, 238-9. This is not a uniquely South Asian quality, of course. See for instance, Thomas Laqueur, The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton, NJ, 2015). []
  59. Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 208. Manto was disowned by the Pakistani Marxist-leaning literary set. Charged with obscenity, he avoided his sentence of prison with hard labor on appeal. []
  60. Scott, “Women in The Making,” 81-82. []
  61. Scott Hamilton, The Crisis of Theory: E. P. Thompson, the New Left, and Postwar British Politics (Manchester, 2011), 159-62; Hamilton’s 2007 talk at the History Department of the University of Auckland, available at http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2007/03/appetite-for-archives-new-light-on-ep.html. []
  62. See David Barstow and Suhasini Raj, “Indian Writers Spurn Awards as Violence Flares,” New York Times, Oct. 18, 2015, p. 1, 4. []
  63. I thank Ana Minian for her ideas about queer politics and exile. []
  64. I thank Hamida Chopra for sharing this story. []
  65. For more on Loona, see Sa Soza, Shiv Kumar Batalvi (2001), 58-90. []
  66. Composed by A. R. Rahman for Imitiaz Ali’s film “Highway” (2014). []
  67. On Azad, see Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 179. Certainly, it is also a luxury of class. []
  68. Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony, 243-4, 257. []

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One Response to Poets of Partition

  1. Surindar Nagpal on Jan 2016 at 3:38 PM

    Dear Sir/ Madam,
    I was born at Kasur now in Pakistan in 1934. I moved to india in 1947 at the time of partition of India at that time I was studying in 8th grade. As such I have some good memories of the partition. I am now a retired Architect. I devote my time to my hobbies photography, water color painting and urdu shayari. I post my Shayari at Yoindia.com a web site in India. One can read me on the site as Umda Shayar. I had the good fortune of having acquainted with one shayar of partition 34 years senior to me. He went by the name/ takhalus Yaktaa Alwari. He was a very educated person retired as divisional magistrate. Most of the people having moved from Pakistan settled very well and easily barring few that could not settle at all. I am writing below some poetry by him which proves my poet. Poetry is in Urdu, I am writing in roman english.
    Title: TAB
    Ey peer-e-falak yun bhi badaltaa hai zamaanaa
    Hai chaand sitaaron kee zuban pe yeh fasaanaa
    Ik chot sii lagtee hai jigar par merey Yaktaa…
    Punjaab kahan aur kahan Rajputanaa…

    Title: ABB
    Jurat wohee hai shauk rindaanaa bhi kam nahin
    Kismat kaa apnee ek paimaanaa bhi kam nahin
    Pujaab jab chutaa thaa bahut ranj thaa humein
    Abb dekhtey hain Rajputaanaa bhi kam nahin…
    Both these rubai’s were written within a span of 1 year. I had to write something as my niece/daughter included me on her essay at face book.
    Surindar Nagpal.

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