The discussion on the short stories written by Mohinder Singh Sarna and translated by his son, Navtej Sarna, zeroed in on humanity as the only saviour in the hour of crisis
The gathering of literati in the evening at Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan discussed the book “Savage Harvest: Stories of Partition” and brought alive the stories of slaughter and sacrifice, which took place at the time of Partition in 1947. A total of 30 stories written by Mohinder Singh Sarna in Punjabi and translated by his son Navtej Sarna through emotional accounts vividly describe the killings and rapes that took place during the traumatic division of the country albeit throwing light on humanity as the only guiding hope for the society.
Gillian Wright who conducted the discussion asked Navtej Sarna, “I was trying to analyse that the stories are of total brutality and always reassert the heart of humanity. There is a time where compassion takes over these stories, ultimately bringing one to tears. Will you agree?” Affirming Sarna, the Indian Ambassador to Israel, said: “In each story there is an emotional climax and everything just goes in the background. That critical moment of turning, which shows the essence of a character emerging from the morass of brutality, is happening all the time. It’s like a little sunrise that happens in the story. And that is what reaches inside you and dugs at the emotions.”
Mark Tully, guest of honour, particularly admired the secularism conduct of some stories. He was enlightened by the light note on which the stories were written. “They didn’t seek to sensationalise, over-dramatize, and they are not what I would call ‘over-adjectives’. They are straightforward stories, which by the very art of good stories alone, leaves such a dramatic impression on the readers,” said Tully.
Reading the shortest story “Defender of humanity” from the book, Sarna commented that that there were good and bad Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs at the time of Partition and in every moment of crisis there was somebody whose humanity was still alive, no matter what his religion was. The father and son had decided years ago on the stories to be included in the book.
“Another interesting aspect about his stories is that he talked about the aam aadmi, more or less. The kisan, the peasants, were the people he was interested in as he had great love for nature and the countryside. But particularly impressive are his portrait of women, strong women, and the women who can see the common sense. There are tremendous women characters in his collection. Very often they are the strength who prevail on the male characters when they are on the edge of fumbling There are several such short stories in the book, which present this in a better manner like ‘Chhaviya di rut’, ‘Dina’s wife’, and several others,” said Sarna.
The writer muses over satirical element in the stories and despite all the satire is not without hope. Hopelessness leads to death and destruction; it was never his intention to set foot on that path since a writer who is without hope has no right to be satirical.
J.S. Neki, who chaired the discussion pointed out, “There was literature in his very ways. The language employed in his short stories is highly poetic, which only enhances their importance. The translation has been done in a rather amazing way, by actually keeping the originality of the whole piece intact.” The message left by Mohinder Singh Sarna in his writings is the message of humanity which shall continue to inspire the coming generations.