Translation: Rakshanda Jalil
Original novella: Ghaddaar, by Krishan Chander
Tranquebar Press, New Delhi, 2017
As we celebrate the 70 years of independence with so much of festivity, there are a number of people who observe it with pain and tears. Partition of 1947, the scar on human civilization, was the cost of the independence of India and Pakistan that displaced millions, killed millions and traumatized another surviving millions. As it is deep rooted in our collective consciousness, it still provides a site of myriad reflections of what it means – what it means for the politicians; what it means for the common people; and what it means for the sensitive creative writers.
Krishan Chander (1914- 1977), a leading literary figure of Urdu, wrote a number of books with a socialist concern for the downtrodden people revealing the inner work of the mind of his characters. People’s inner conflict and suffering are penned by him with a finesse that the narratives keep lingering in the minds of the readers.
Chander’s Ghaddaar, translated by Rakshanda Jalil as Traitor, brings out the horror of the violence of Partition unleashed by mutual hatred. The narrative revolves around Baijnath, a high caste Pundit Brahmin who survives the attacks of violence because of the sacrifices made by his Muslim beloved Shadaan and friend Miyan — Shadaan agrees to marry against her choice to save her beloved Baijnath while Miyan allows his children to be taken away by the Muslim mob in liu of Baijnath. Baijnath, too, loses his father and son which enrage him with hatred and an urge for revenge. He goes to rape a Muslim girl along with others, but runs away being unable to tolerate her screams; he joins the Hindu mob to kill the Muslim refugees but is unable to pierce his raised spear finding a resemblance between the victim and his father. Thus, his humanness makes him appear a “traitor” before his community who rejoice over the violence and hatred by killing, looting and dishonoring women from the other community. Baijnath’s journey from Lala village to different places and finally to a camp describes the human side of the traumatic event revealing the many sides of us. We come across loyal and sacrificing friends, greedy relatives and neighbours, inhuman sentries, revengeful hate-mongering mob – we come across loses of life, property honour and above all trust and love. For many people, Partition and violence is an unbelievable reality. People who lived for centuries together suddenly turn against each other marking a failure of all human values. Traitor records those dark events.
In the face of such frenzy, somewhere, the good sides of human beings peep through the shades of bloodshed. The meeting and separation of two childhood old friends – Nathu and Ahmadyar is a remarkable event in the narrative. Ahmadyar walks in the procession leaving for Pakistan while Nathu waits with the mob looking for a chance to kill the Muslims. They discover each other in such a fearful situation and share their experience of their loses; Nathu asks Ahmadyar to stay behind with him and Ahmadyar declines. Both the friends embrace each other and separate forever. The question that Ahmadyar asks Nathu, “ …what has happened to the world, Nathu? … Then what is this fighting all about?” to which Nathu did not know what to say – reflects the incomprehensibility of the loss – all for a political game that makes the common people suffer. Rumi the pregnant bitch represents the struggle for survival in a turbulent time — finally to just give away and die. Shadaan’s sacrifice is aligned with Parvati’s love. Parvati leaves for Pakistan, as her Muslim lover Imtiaz was killed by her family members taking the opportunity of communal violence, and she plans to live there with Imtiaz’s mother as his widow in “the country of my beloved” — as she proclaims. And Baijnath, who loses his son, rescues a Muslim boy risking his own life. The novel ends with Baijnath’s realization that “People may spit on my face or laugh at me with scorn or turn away from me in contempt. But I must drink this poison to keep the greatness of humanity alive in my breast. I must walk steadfastly towards my destination (pg.107).” This underlines the title of the novel that, “The word ‘traitor’ acquires a new meaning and a sharper edge in the deeply polarized times we live in when certain words are being hijacked by certain persons or groups professing a certain ideology” – as notes the translator.
The translation makes an easy reading. As a writer and translator, Rakshanda Jalil has a repute which is proven again in this book. The simplicity of the descriptions evokes more sorrowful reactions in the mind. The objective style of the narrative makes a strong focus on the stark realities. The novel is open-ended in the sense that what happens finally to Baijnath and the Muslim child he rescues is not known. But the novel ends with a ray of hope – “And a bright light glimmered all around me – from that bank of the river to this. I lifted the child high in my arms and kissed him on both cheeks and his forehead. Then, hoisting him on my shoulders, I walked towards that valley of hope where the sun never sets (pg.107).”
When you read Traitor, you actually re-live the trauma of Partition such as, displacement, migration, changes in relationships, loss and regain of love and humanity and above all the array of suffering of people in the face of crises. The novel forces you to ponder on and question the futility of the inhuman political decisions that challenge humanity and make the common people suffer. At the same time, it also stresses the need of upholding our basic human values in the face of crises.
Dr. Arzuman Ara is an Assistant Professor in The English and Foreign Languages University, Shillong Campus, Meghalaya. She translates poetry and has worked on the themes of “Gender and Partition Narratives” and 1971 Muktijuddho Narratives.