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Haven and Hell: A Representation of Delhi in Punjabi Literature

The dead, it is said, do not live to tell the tale, but this is not true in ethnic riots. The dead do tell the tale; it is the living who are reluctant to speak. - Donald Horowitz As a matter of fact, the living do speak; they speak through literature. Literature becomes a repository for the memories of people who bear the burden of witnessing. As a survivor of the 1984 riots said, 'It is our work to cry and your work to listen.' This paper looks at the representation of the city of Delhi in Punjabi literature, offering two sharply divergent images. The first is of Delhi as a safe haven for the Sikh and Hindu refugees fleeing from the ethnic violence they faced in West Punjab (and simultaneously as hell for the Muslim popu-lation of the city) in the wake of Independence and Partition of the Indian subcontinent in August 1947. The second image in Punjabi literature is of the city as hell when it turned inimical to members of the Sikh community in November 1984 following the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards. 1947… The most conspicuous demographic change in Delhi in modern times was due to the migrations during the Partition of Punjab in 1947. Soon after the Rawalpindi riots in March 1947, a large number of Hindus and Sikhs from West Punjab began to surge into Delhi. The city was unprepared to deal with the influx of refugees, who swarmed everywhere and set up homes and shops wherever they could find a niche. Temporary camps were set up and, later converted into permanent housing. New satellite zones also grew around the main city to accommodate the large numbers. The government tried its best to provide housing and occupation to the refugees but was not able to make arrangements to their satisfaction. Punjabi literature is informed with, as Renuka Singh says, a '… recurrent theme of loss and suffering. It was as if the division of Punjab had permanently affected their psyche' (City Improbable, p. 103). Renuka Singh, herself with a story of migration to tell, speaks about how her father, Pritam Singh, working with a Punjabi literary magazine, Preet Lari, had to abandon their home in Preet Nagar soon after Partition. The family came to Delhi as refugees and stayed initially at the Yog Maya Temple opposite the Qutub Minar. ...

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