Born out of bleeding borders, all Partition literature is in fact essentially unbordered. Writers of Partition stories question the hastily drawn borders, interrogate the suspicion and insane violence that followed, and cling to the secure memories of the borderless past. However, the book, Unbordered Memories, acquires a special place in this vast body of literature created since 1947.
Rita Kothari has done great service in translating stories of Partition from Sindhi language, of which there has been no serious acknowledgment so far. This indeed has been the fate of the Sindhis themselves, who, although deeply affected by Partition, neither got to be heard significantly nor did they get any place of their own for their language and culture to flourish.
Sindhis on either side of the border suffered various kinds of losses — material, psychological, and spiritual. Some of them get articulated in in this collection.
“Perhaps of all Partition migrants,” says the translator, “the Sindhis have willed themselves to forget Partition most successfully.” This was as though an engineered forgetfulness on the part of the majority that wished to invest itself in business enterprise rather than indulge in a “crippling” nostalgia. But then, some of them, the writers, did not restrain themselves from giving voice to the “unspoken.” They articulate the silence and sensitively portray the lived reality rather than repress it. Nostalgia it may well be, but what lies behind this sentiment cannot be dismissed as mere sentimentalism. As the translator points out in his note: nostalgia can be seen as compensation for a world lost to the Sindhis.
When seen through Kothari's perspective presented in the “Introduction”, the stories come alive in the specific Sindhi context. What makes the Sindhi experience of Partition different?
She goes on to identify the reasons for the departures: the geographical position of Sindh, its “cultural isolation”, Hindu-Muslim economic interdependence, and so on.
While the Hindu Sindhis had to leave their homeland behind like all Partition refugees, unlike the rest of them, they had no way to regain their sense of belonging anywhere in particular. That is why, the bewildered refugee Joharmal in Narayan Bharti's story ‘The Claim' declares: “Joharmal, son of Vaseymal, nukka Nagdev has left the whole of Sindh in Pakistan. Now he files a claim for Sindh.” Nothing less would compensate for the loss suffered by him.
In fact, Bhoori in Sundri Uttamchandani's story perhaps stands for Sindh and is lovingly called “Sindhri” who conserves her dignity and is symbolic of purity. That is precisely how Sindh retains its charm in the minds of those who had to leave it forever in 1947.
As for the Muslim Sindhis who stayed behind, they underwent a sort of identity crisis too. With the imposition of the official language, Urdu, they had to learn it at the cost of Sindhi and, most of all, they began to lose out on their syncretic culture built over centuries of coexistence with Hindus. Amar Jaleel's story “Holi” laments this loss.
Unbordered Memories brings together stories from both sides of the borders. This is in itself a conscious gesture that questions borders and boundaries in reaching out and sharing experiences.
UNBORDERED MEMORIES - Sindhi Stories of Partition: Edited and Translated by Rita Kothari; Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 250.