A Tale To Tell
The Partition was a traumatic chapter in the history of sub-continental India. Some two million people are said to have been slaughtered on either side of the border, sacrificed to fanaticism and hatred. Over 20 million people were displaced. It was the biggest peace-time carnage—that surpassed even war time violence. Mohinder Singh Sarna writes of the sorrow of the humanity through his own experiences. As he writes in Meri Sahitik Svaijeevni: “I was an eyewitness to those massacre, those acts of fanaticism and barbarity. I saw humanity sobbing as it breathed its last.” Savage Harvest is a collection of 30 short stories which were originally written in Punjabi by one of the most respected names in Punjabi literature, and his diplomat son Navtej Sarna decided to translate these stories to English because (as he says in the introduction of the book), all the stories featured in this book are a poignant tribute to the human spirit. Savage Harvest depicts the stories of riots and rapes, arson and killings. These acts of violence have left a deep impact on the people of both countries.
The characters of the stories in the book are a mix of courage and compassion and Sarna blends the heart-wrenching with the heart warming. In the story, Savage Harvest, the village iron-monger, fearful of his son, is hammers out a pile of sickles, his son’s gang would use later in the night to chop down the infidels and gets bed ridden with the thought of the killings. In another story ‘Gondlanwala’ Shabbir risks his life, to rescue an abducted girl from his own rogue uncle, and in another story, an old Muslim saves his Sikh landlady and her daughters and a dog, who have fallen to a frenzied mob.
These stories are example that all was not lost in those troubled times. In the same vein, a distraught Sikh mother bares her own bosom before her son incensed at his parading of hapless Muslim women naked in Delhi, or a story of an elderly Sikh women refugee, covering two young Muslim girls stripped of their clothes, by a mob in revenge for the violence on the border. While the stories in the book are laden with partition sorrows, there also are the delightful stories of a postal clerk who wins the heart and hand of a young woman assistant to whom he scribbles notes because he thinks she is deaf and mute, and of vegetable seller Bashir Ahmad who offers to take his wife to Barnala years after settling in India only because he hears an azaan in the town and feels safe.
The underlying social message in Sarna’s stories is that hate and violence cannot have a place in society and have indeed no religion. Basic human values must be the guiding spirit in any society.
By Nilabh Krishna