“Both of us did not leave the house the whole day. Today, on the day of Independence, we remained imprisoned in the house’
Translated by Maaz Bin Bilal, The Sixth River is a journalistic narrative of the ironical partition of India. Of the many books I have read regarding partition, this one holds a special place in my heart, because of its narrative style and the way it hits the psyche of a person. Traversing a span of only four months, Taunsvi highlights the major developments of the aftermath of Partition in Punjab and Lahore (Pakistan) through real-life incidents, pen pictures of inhumanity and historical metaphors; and all along keeping intact the role of penmanship and literature during Partition.
Mohammad Bin Tughlaq adorned the pages of my history books in school. Never did
I imagine such an uncanny but true resemblance to his historical shift of kingdom to be reflected through the horrors of Partition. Tughlaq was a (human) ruling over others (read human) from a kingdom in the North and later in the South. This massive shift of capital in both cases was nothing short of a debacle. Quite similar to what the Partition was- a shift of ruling power from one to two especially on the communal lines. Was it a hasty decision? Was it truly for the people? Did it resolve all ongoing issues or added flame to the fire which could have been extinguished? These and much more are questions that the narrator considers ever so often during The Sixth River. But what was striking was the notable reaction to the Partition by the people.
Target Psyche Hit
The narrator shows the miseries of the Partition through the tales of his friends and news. Robbery, Plunder, Murder, Rape, Lynching, Burning were everyday affairs. So much so that at one point in time it did not stir any emotions out of people. More often than not they were drowning in their own sorrows and chose to opt for the path of escapism. One listened to everything, but reacted to nothing! With the intellectual state of every human so vulnerable, the less unfortunate started taking advantage of the situation. Instances of acquiring money from people to ensure their safety and then throwing them towards death were everyday occurring. Trains, trucks, and buses loaded with injured and dead refugees were common sights. Lost families, orphaned children, widowed wives, and most importantly the cruel limitless wait to be reunited with one’s family ruled the people. In such circumstances, the narrator tries to remain hopeful and maintain his sanity by embracing literature.
Literature as an embodiment of Peace
We have always had a vast amount of Partition Literature to study where most of them refer to descriptions and narrations about Partition. The Sixth River imbibes literature as a chord of survival during the turmoil of Partition. Throughout the narrations, the various incidents and happenings were condensed through equivalent famous literary references in Urdu, Hindi and regional dialects. In fact, against the backdrop of Partition, the poetic circles met to recite their verses to each other as the mentality of their listeners and readers was not absorbent of literature in such ghastly scenarios. Literature from an outsider’s point of view would have been the last thing on anyone’s mind; but for those who had Literature in mind, it became the strongest shield to guard them against the fears and sail them through difficult times. It became a synonym to hope and silver lining.
What’s in a Name?
Looking at the title of the book one might wonder the meaning of The Sixth River. It is a known fact that the Five Rivers of the North are shared by both countries but The Sixth River is a game of perspectives. For me, it is the river formed by the human psyche, where the agony of loss and the optimism of a better dawn coexist to give mankind the strength and will to survive and struggle through harsh times.