Words, as I have been told, have the ability to resolve conflict and at the same time engrave wounds so deep that a person may never heal. The intricate arrangement of these letters which eventually form words and later, a sentence has always fascinated me. The power of these sentences which end up conveying things that are far more meaningful than what they initially wanted to convey.
Writing and working at Endeavour has always been something that I look forward to, with it being a solace. So when we came up with the idea to celebrate our independence day through an exquisite editorial spread, I knew that I wanted to write about words. Words of revolution, to be specific. Those intricate arrangements of words which led to my freedom; our freedom. As of this morning a dear friend – who also happens to be my teammate at Endeavour, asked me about my perception of freedom. I thought for a while and came to the conclusion that freedom for me meant a sense of responsibility. Responsibility without burden. Responsibility of the type that one is conscious enough to understand what is right and what is wrong, wherein you give enough flexibility to the grey spaces of life.
This led me to wonder about the kind of responsibility that writers that led and contributed towards our independence had to bear. Were their hearts made of iron? Were they excessively self-critical in their writing? Or did they have no time to ponder on minor inconveniences for they were working for a cause greater than themselves? Thinking of the pre-independence era, how did these writers manage to write in such a way which expresses the idea of freedom and revolution in an uncomplicated manner?
When I was researching about poets and their poetry, I came across a letter Shaheed Bhagat Singh wrote to his brother Kultar Singh.This was one of the final letters that he wrote to his dear brother, while awaiting trial from the Central Jail at Lahore. Originally written in Urdu, the letter has since been translated in Hindi and English and conveys the spirit of resilience through the use of metaphors.
उसे यह फ़िक्र है हरदम नई तर्ज़-ए-ज़फ़ा क्या है
हमे यह शौक़ है देखें सितम की इंतेहा क्या है
दहर से क्यों ख़फा रहे, चर्ख़ का क्यों गिला करें
सारा जहां अदू सही औओ मुक़ाबला करें
He frets about the form the next torture can take
And we are impatient to test the limit of cruelty
Why be displeased with depths, why reproach the sky
Let the entire world be your enemy, and we shall fight it
In jail, where he did not see the light of the day, the bravest man of all wrote words so lyrical that it inspired others. On the other hand, noted Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz is known for his revolutionary poems called ‘nazm’. Born in Punjab, British India; Faiz went on to become the spokesperson for the oppressed classes through his poetry. His works strongly reflected on government oppression, partition, dictatorships and corruption of ideals. A nominee of the Nobel Prize in literature and a recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize, Faiz was loved worldwide. Further, he was a part of the Progressive Writers Movement, an organisation established pre-partition with its members reflecting left-leaning philosophy and ideals of liberty as well as democracy through their writings. In his most celebrated works “The Dawn of Freedom / सुबह-ए-आज़ादी” , composed in August, 1947 Faiz writes about the mass feelings associated with the partition of India and Pakistan. Through this poem he expresses his anguish over partition and conveys that this freedom is promised freedom and we as a nation need to continue our struggle to achieve true independence.
ये दाग़ दाग़ उजाला, यह शब-गज़ीदा सहर
वह इंतिज़ार था जिसका यह सहर तो नहीं?
यह वह सहर तो नहीं जिसकी आरज़ू ले कर
चले थे यार कि मिल जाएगी कहीं न कहीं
These stains/scars illuminated by daybreak, this morning injured by night,
This is not the dawn we waited for.
This is not that dawn for which our friends set out,
Hoping to find somewhere along the way.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz | Via: The Print
Saadat Hasan Manto, the master of short stories, wrote about the deep scars of partition. His book ‘Mottled Dawn’ consists of fifty sketches of partition, including his notable works ‘Toba Tek Singh’, ‘The Price of Freedom’ and ‘A Tale of 1947.’ Manto is also known for his love affair with the city of Bombay. The writer moved to Bombay in the year 1936, he embodied the chawls, the goons and the aesthetic of the city into his writings. He moved to Pakistan post partition and all he expressed through his works was the deep longing he held for Bombay and his old life. His dear friend and fellow author, Ismat Chugtai was also one of the writers who expressed revolutionary ideas. A feminist icon, she wrote extensivley on female sexuality and class conflicts.
Mottled Dawn by Saadat Hasan Manto
The list of writers who inspired us, who made sure that the true idea of freedom was instilled within us remains never ending. Premchand, Mahadev Desai, Sarojini Naidu, Rabindranath Tagore, Khushwant Singh, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Attia Hossain, Kamleshwar – one thing that remains in common between all is that the voice of revolution was never silenced.
Further suggested readings:
Mottled Dawn by Saadat Hasan Manto
Bombay Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto
Lifting the Veil by Ismat Chugtai
Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh
Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra
By Kamiya Arya