Translator: Ameena kazi ansari
Kamleshwar’s Kitne Pakistan enjoys cult status as a novel that dates to ask crucial questions about the making and writing of history.
With India’s partition in 1947 as its reference point the novel presents a limitless canvas against which the most extraordinary trial in the history of mankind runs its course. Present in a court that transcends space and time are Mughal Emperors Babar and Aurangzeb, Spanish adventurer Hernando Cortez, Lord Mountbatten, Adolf Hitler and Saddam Husseinm Along with political leaders, religious zealots and scheming gods of mythology they stand accused of creating countless fractured nations leaving a never ending trail of hated and distrust.
The arbiter for suffering humanity is an unnamed adeeb or literateur who must sift through the testimony of casualties from the killing fields of injustice at home and abroad ranging from Krurukshetra to Kargil, Hiroshima to Basnia. As recorded history unravels to reveal the sinister realities that lie beneath the scholar traveling back in time so that he may carry forward for posterity the enduring lessons of love compassion peace and hope.
Translated into English for the first time this boldly provocative saga is a triumph of poetic imagination that relentlessly probes our underlying assumptions of history and truth religion and nationalism.
This novel was born out of a constant ferment within my mind. For decades, I had done various things like writing stories and columns, taking up jobs and then leaving them, making TV films on terrorism in Kashmir and on the Babri Masjid dispute in Ayodhya. The social scenario traumatized me, and so I got caught up in producing programmes like The Burning Question on the Shalini burning case, and Closed file on the suicide of three sisters in Kanpur. During this period, I also wrote a couple of film scripts besides writing the screenplay for protracted serials like Chandrakanta, Yug, Betaal and Viraat.
It was during those days that I got an opportunity to write a serial on India’s agricultural history. The power of my reading glasses changed as I perused histories and studied the development of world civilizations. In the course of penning down twenty—seven hour long episodes, my mind mulled over the beginnings of time and the advent of the Aryans. It constantly opposed the dynamics of war evolved by the Mohenjodaro and Harappa civilizations, and also the Aryans. Many a time, I wrote and rewrote the episode on this issue. Once, in a fit of weariness, to finish this work at hand, I even incorporated the ideological tilt of western intellectuals in my writing, I also juggled with Lokmanya Tilak’s conceptualization and theory that the Aryans were the original inhabitants of India. Taking this into account, I rewrote the episode. But, somehow, I was not suite convinced by what I had written. All the while I felt that I had failed to reach the core of truth in my composition. If one preconceives and predetermines the truth, it can only give one ephemeral insight, it rarely accords inner harmony. That is why, perhaps, a composition ways seeks its own possible truth. It was this seeking which revealed to me that the Aryans had no reason to be aggressive. They had not been attacked. These Aryans were just nomadic tribes familiar with agricultural techniques, and they sought the benevolence nature and fertile soil. The Indus Valley had no dearth of either. So, there was no need for aggression and warfare. The Aryans just came and randomly settled down.
Echoes of warfare resound in the Vedas’ account of the demonic Asuras. These are assuredly sagas that describe the dynamics of the social system, the power and grandeur of a society that had gradually stabilized. In all the histories of the world’s civilizations, there is no evidence to suggest that a community, which had faced invasion, had composed anything that could match the constructive charm of the Vedas. Such works can only be written during times of peace, faith and forbearance, not during times of war. This emergent truth gave me much solace and made it possible for me to write The Story of agriculture.
Kitne Pakistan was intermittently written in the midst of these stories, articles, fictionalized histories and other impediments. From this variety of compositions, I was able to enhance my creative skills and learn the art of controlled expression.
I began writing this novel in May I990. In the midst of dense forests, Subhash Pant had made arrangements for me at the jhajra Forest Rest House near Dehradun. For provisions, one had to walk downhill. Gayatri was there with me. We had also taken along with us our four-year—old grandchild, Anant. He had made friends with a dog that visited us. Anant had named him Moti. Sometimes, we got to see multi colored wild pheasants and Anant would walk long distances just to see them.
Occasionally, adivasi woodcutters would pass by. One day, Anant disappeared from sight while in pursuit of a pheasant. Gayatri was alarmed. We searched all over, ran around calling out to him, but he was not to be found. An old man passing by told us that a short distance away, he had seen a little boy walking with a woodcutter. Hearing this, Gayatri felt faint with fear. Having read about the tradition of human sacrifice amongst tribal people, she was terrified. Even I was alarmed. After reassuring Gayatri and giving her some water to drink, I left her in the care of a servant and setout. I walked swiftly in the direction indicated by the old man. I had gone some distance when I saw Anant sitting on the shoulders of a woodcutter, feet dangling, and hands resting on the man’s turban. The child was bubbling with joy. In his left hand the man held an axe and he was walking towards me. I heaved a sigh of relief. It turned out that the woodcutter had taken Anant to show him diet and bears.
This incident provided me a new perception on tribal people. It was a perspective based on experience far removed from what books had to say. Seven or eight later this experience inspired me when I wrote about the Maya civilization in this novel anyhow.
Two compulsions are associated with this novel. One is that in my mind there was no hero or villain so I made time the protagonist. The second is that while writing the novel. One is that in protagonist. The second is that while writing the novel I constantly felt as if this was my maiden literary venture. I was all the while beset by an unvoiced restlessness and perception of inadequacy. Like all novels this one two had to culminate somewhere. So it ended yet in my mind the debate carries on.
When charles Dickens wrote the first sentences in the tale of two cities it was the best of times it was the worst of times little did he know that that these words would poignantly sum up the state of affairs that prevailed in the wake of India’s independence. Sadly the euphoria of independence was dampened by the trauma of massacres that marked the partition of the country Kitne Pakistan is the voice of a man who happened to live through and keenly felt those troubled times.
It is a novel that fictionalizes mythologies and histories. All along it underscores the unnatural division of a people and a land along lines or religion. It subtly bemoans the fact that in 1947 the people who mattered allowed the fragmentation of land society and psyche all of which resulted in one of the most horrific bloodbaths in human history. This event forms the backdrops of the novel and informs the consciousness of the protagonist a nameless adeeb or literature.
Giving the protagonist a name would perhaps limit him to specific confines of name and place both of which he is made to transcend in the course of the narrative. He is a contemporary everyman a man of many parts and personae. He is introduced as a writer who has lived through India’s partition experiencing the trauma of hearts and mind being divided as the contours of Pakistan are drawn up by the British. As the plot unfolds the adeeb plays many roles that of a journalist who questions the establishment of an unrequited lover whose mistress lives across a volatile border of a historian who questions pantheons of divinity as well as civilizational myths and history and an activist who rails against massacres imperialism and nuclear proliferation. In each of these roles the adeeb comes across as a person with an extremely sensitive conscience which makes him take a position of critical moderation. He is an articulate voice of the common man’s concerns which have gone largely unheard in history’s relentless march of time. It is this man who embodies the people’s court which sets out to judge human as well as divine acts of omission and commission down the trajectory of history.
Sweeping over vast tracts of time and space the narrative summons father time to assist him in his judgment. And it is this time which emerges as the protagonist presenting before the reader a tableau of men and matters that await the adeeb’s judgment. In the carnival of historical personages who march through the pages of Kitne Pakistan the adeeb’s court questions cross examines and passes strictures. Slices of past present and future appear before the bench but ironically it is a blind beggar who is made to show the way to a subcontinent’s troubled populace.
Kitne Pakistan is about people – people all over the globe who have suffered injustice oppression and dislocation of various kinds. It is the voice of a man who has lived through a crucial epoch of the world’s history and seen both the best and the worst of times. The work externalizes and puts on paper a gut wrenching debate that went on in the author’s mind (and which continues in a reader’s mind) as one peruses the novel. Its power and appeal lie in addressing and impacting contemporary audiences.
For me as for many others like me Kitne Pakistan has a special personal relevance. Born as I was a dozen years after India’s independence I grew up hearing my nani talk of how complete her family’s partition had been three children in India the other three in Pakistan. We all lived through war and war and peace always hoping for the best. It was my ten year old son who so succinctly summed it all up some years back when I visited relatives in Lahore Amma the people here look the same as us.
Translating Kitne Pakistan has been an experience of a very different kind. To me the novel reads as a work encompassing many texts co-texts, and subtexts the represents a multiplicity of perspectives. In translating it I have tried to negotiate with and evolve a mode of expression that captures its imaginative cultural and philosophical nuances.
Besides juggling with the academic intricacies of translation Kitne Pakistan for me has been both a purgation and an assertion. It is purgation because the hopelessness of my nani’s generation has been redeemed through a creative work that looks to the future after learning from the past. It is an assertion as it echoes my belief that despite the bitterness of partition there are people who look to the future with hope and confidence. I imagine this novel would make great sense to the readers of my generation as it would to those of the generation before and after me.
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