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All illustrations are details from the Partition paintings by Satish Gujral.


Today I Ask Waris Shah to Speak Up from His Grave:
The Partition of Punjab - Three Poems






by W.H. Auden   (1907-73)


Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on the land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
"Time," they had briefed him in London, "is short. It's too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we've arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you."

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep the assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he could quickly forget
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.




by Amrita Pritam   (1919-2005)

[translated from Punjabi by White Wings]


Today I ask Waris Shah to speak up from his grave,
And in his book of love write another page.

Once a daughter of Punjab wept and he tirelessly wrote for her,
Today thousands of daughters weep all calling for Waris Shah.

O soother of the stricken, arise and see your Punjab!
Corpses are everywhere, the blood is flowing in Chenab!

Someone put poison in the waters of five rivers,
The rivers in turn kept feeding the fields everywhere.

Where once they heard love songs, the flute is now silent,
The art of playing flute for Ranja's brothers is lost.

Rains of blood came, the blood seeped from graves,
The princesses of love cried loud from graves.

They're all like Qaido now, thieves of beauty and love,
Where can we find another Waris Shah again?

Today I ask Waris Shah to speak up from his grave,
And in his book of love write another page.




by Faiz Ahmed Faiz    (1911-84)


This daybreak, pockmarked  -
this morning, night-bitten.
Surely it is not the morning we'd longed for
in whose eager quest all comrades
had set out, hoping that somewhere
in the wilderness of the sky
would appear the ultimate destination of stars.
Somewhere the wave of the slow night will meet the shore
and somewhere will anchor the boat of the heart's grief.

As our friends set out on the mysterious highways
of young blood, how many hands caught them by the sleeve.
From the dreamlands of beauty's pleasure-houses
kept beckoning to them, impatiently, seductive arms and bodies.
But we yearned only for the morning's face,
even though within easy reach was the hem of the radiant beauties.
Delicate was our longing and faint our sense of exhaustion.

It's heard that light and darkness have parted  -
also, that there's now union between quest and goal
that the lot of the afflicted is now changed
that granted is the pleasure of union
and banished is the torment of separation.

Fire in the bosom, longing in the eyes, and the heart-burn  -
nothing can solve the problem of separation.
Where did the sweet breeze come from and where did it vanish  -
the street lamp has no news yet.
Even the night's heaviness is just the same;
still the moment of salvation has not arrived
for the heart and the eye.
So let's press on as the destination is still far away.

[This translation from Urdu is from the book, India Partitioned: The Other Face of Freedom. Roli Books, New Delhi, India, 1995.]


Re-published on August 15, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Amrik Singh (New Delhi, India), August 11, 2007, 6:04 PM.

There is so much to mourn, to commemorate, to remember, to honour ... Yet, there's so much to celebrate! We Sikhs are blessed with the gift of forgetfulness ... we leave behind our pain in the ashes when we rise, always rise, like the phoenix. The saga of the Sikhs post-Partition is, I firmly believe, one of the great untold stories of the twentieth century. I still contend: given all the challenges we get thrown our way, our miniscule minority numbers, the deep malice of our detractors ... yet Sardars and Sardarnis rule the roost everywhere. It's the gift of Chardi Kalaa! No, I'm not wearing rose-tinted glasses. It's my eyes!

2: D. J. Singh (U.S.A.), August 11, 2007, 6:25 PM.

1947 was partition of the land, not the soul. Individuals perished. Religion and culture survived. Few lessons were learnt. Therefore, 1984 happened. But, the soul still survived.

3: Prempal Singh (San Diego, U.S.A.), August 12, 2007, 2:14 PM.

Quite beautiful poems, and beautifully put together by you.

4: Teja Singh (Edmonton, Canada), August 12, 2007, 8:24 PM.

The Punjab partition was a great disaster, resulting in heavy casualties and great distress from widespread dislocation. However, we are blessed with great resilience and energy to rise again.

5: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), August 16, 2007, 5:07 AM.

"Partition" by W.H.Auden brings out how hastily and perfunctorily the twin nations were delivered through Ceasarean surgery. For such a momentous event, "The time is short. It is too late for mutual reconciliation..."! The future of millions was put at stake on the basis of out-dated maps and unreliable census records. The performer of this reckless operation was provided with every comfort and security, whereas the "beneficiaries" of the deed faced banishment, brutal murder, kidnappings, loot and rape.

6: Harinder (Mohali, Punjab, India), August 21, 2007, 6:11 AM.

Our foolish leaders did not see it coming ... instead of behaving like leaders of a nation, they act as if they're leading a bunch of tribes.

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The Partition of Punjab - Three Poems"

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