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Narrativizing Partition: The Perils of Overkill

Tarun K. Saint

By Kamleshwar. Translated from Hindi by Ameena K. Ansari
Penguin, Delhi, 2006, pp. 368, Rs. 350.00

By Anup Beniwal
Shakti Book House, 2005, pp. 208, Rs. 450.00


Kamleshwar’s short story ‘Kitne Pakistan’ (tr. ‘How Many Pakistans?’) is a minor classic of partition literature. His Hindi novel of 2001, bearing the same title, has now been published in an eminently readable English translation, as Partitions. Translated competently by Ameena K. Ansari of the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia, the novel expands on some of the themes earlier explored in the story. The decision not to attempt a literal translation of the novel’s title is apt, given the expanded timeframe of the novel, as a reflection on multiple partitions through history. The motif of cross-border romance, which becomes a metaphor for geopolitical desire, runs through the novel, as in the case of the story, as do images of dismemberment and dislocation. The novel is indeed ambitious in its scope. The unnamed adeeb or writer, who summons to the court of literature various figures from human history accused of practising the politics of hatred, casts his net far and wide. Characters from epics such as the Gilgamesh and the Mahabharata, as well as from the pages of history, such as Aurangzeb, Hitler, Mountbatten, and Jinnah appear in this court, and tell their stories. Various figures responsible for the creation of many ‘Pakistans’ in the past and present are cross-questioned by the eponymous writer figure. They are deemed to be accountable for their actions, which resulted in suffering for countless victims and refugees through history. Time and history appear in the court as personifications, expressing shame at the depravity that mankind has been capable of through the ages.   However, one may note that the risk of over-extension of metaphor was already present in the earlier story. If ‘Pakistans’ are indeed the result of an absence of mutual fellow feeling, leading to hatred, as the narrator of Kitne Pakistan believes, the ‘partition-effect’ may certainly continue to be manifested. However, a certain economy of affect held together the fragmentary episodes in the original story, marked by the refrain as lamentation, ‘Kitne Pakistan’. Instead, in the novel, the attempt to achieve a metaphoric criticism of such gaps in communication between individuals and communities, while reaching back into the realm of mythology and prehistory, leads to the idea of multiple partitions through time becoming somewhat repetitive. Furthermore, the poignancy of the poetic refrain in the story is lost here, as the commentator, rather than adeeb-writer, often comes to the fore to denounce excesses ...

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