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Silence Between the Notes: An Anthology of Partition Poetry – A review

A valuable addition to partition poetry

Silence Between the Notes: An Anthology of Partition Poetry –  A review

The period immediately after the partition of the subcontinent was perhaps the most horrific in the history of this region. During those days –  filled with a naked dance of barbarism – humanity was not to be found anywhere. Millions of people were forcibly driven out of their homes on both sides of the border –  a large number of of them, butchered amid the slogans of Allah-o-Akbar and Wahe Guru Ji ka Khalsa, among others. More than seven decades have gone by since 1947, but both Pakistan and India can still feel the after-effects of partition. Many wars have been fought ever since. The clouds of war loom over the countries once again, as I write these lines.

In these difficult days, it is perhaps imperative to look at history once again and remember the millions of innocent people who fell victim to the mass mayhem that took place after the division. Dr Aftab Husain, a versatile poet and academic and Sarita Jenamani, an Indian poet, have come up with a collection of poems, Silence Between the Notes: An Anthology of Partition Poetry– in memory of the 1947 riots victims.Altaf

Both agree that apart from the few poems, there is a serious dearth of substantial poetry on the Indo-Pak partition. According to them, while despite a number of poets have dabbled in the subject, many have forgotten to mention the heavy price paid by the public during the mass migration. Faiz mildly reminded us that partition was not the promised freedom. Amrita Pritam wrote a powerful poem on the tragedy, invoking the spirit of Waris Shah to write an elegy his ‘charred’ Punjab.

The present volume is a valuable addition to the scant partition poetry that explores the concepts of separation, uprootedness and homelessness in the wake of migration. Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs had been living together for centuries, enjoying each other’s cultural and religious festivals. Suddenly, they were at each other’s throats; friends becoming foes almost overnight. This anthology is an attempt to capture the pain and agony of the people who were cruelly uprooted from their homes and homelands.

The volume contains poems by several literary giants. From the likes of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ali Sardar Jafri, Akhtarul Iman and Amrita Pritam to Munir Niazi and Nasir Kazmi, the list is illustrious. Agha Shahid Ali, the bard of Kashmir, also makes an appearance. So do Sheikh Ayaz, Ustad Daman, Sahir Ludhinvi, Ahmad Salim, Surjit Patar, and Sharif Kunjahi.

Silence Between the Notes has been aptly filled with the gentle murmur of verse – which needs to be listened to closely to feel the anguish of those who suffered at the altar of history. We might end up learning a lesson.

The poets whose works are featured in the collection include Adil Jussawala, Imtiaz Dharkar, Keki Daruwala, Motilal Jotwani, Manu Desh, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Nabinadas, Balraj Komal, Kaiser Haq. Poets from all over the sub-continent have been featured in the anthology. Some of them do not currently reside in the region. These poems have been translated from a number of languages, including Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Sindhi and English.

Husain and Jenamani must be given credit for selecting, editing and introducing the poets and the translators who rendered the verse into English. Silence Between the Notes has been aptly filled with the gentle murmur of verse –  which needs to be listened to closely to feel the anguish of those who suffered at the altar of history. We might end up learning a lesson, or two.

Silence Between the Notes: An Anthology of Partition Poetry
Edited by: Aftab Husain, Sarita Jenamani
Publisher: Dhauli Books Bhubaneshwar, Odisha
Pages: 178
Price: INR 395

Altaf Husain Asad

altaf asad
The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.

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