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Littérature et poétiques pluriculturelles en Asie du Sud

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Annie Montaut

Partition, Exile, Fragmentation1

Partition, exil, fragmentation

Krishna Baldev Vaid

Résumé

Le romancier Krishna Baldev Vaid, qui fut au début des années quatre-vingt l’un des principaux animateurs du groupe d’écrivains avant-gardistes du Bharat Bhavan à Bhopal, présente dans un entretien avec Alok Bhalla ses réflexions sur la Partition et la représentation qu’il en donne dans son roman majeur Temps passé/Guzrā huā zamānā. Si le mode de convivialité élaboré par les diverses communautés dans un bourg du Panjab avant les massacres de quarante-sept n’est jamais idéalisé en utopie harmonieuse, des tensions profondes existant entre Hindous, Sikhs et Musulmans, la lucidité, l’humour et le sens de la relativité permettent à l’auteur d’en comprendre la violence potentielle et d’essayer de la désamorcer. Cette rupture tragique n’en est pas moins en consonance avec le sentiment de dislocation intérieure que Vaid associe à l’état d’exil, condition intérieure de l’écrivain.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Choix de textes et présentation par Annie Montaut.

Krishna Baldev Vaid est un romancier, nouvelliste et dramaturge qui vit actuellement en Inde (Bhopal, où il fut l’un des principaux animateurs du groupe d’écrivains avant-gardistes du Bharat Bhavan, jusqu’en 1984, puis Delhi) après avoir exercé aux États-Unis dans plusieurs universités en tant que professeur de littérature américaine.

Auteur d’un important ouvrage sur les techniques narratives chez Henry James, il est également traducteur (vers le hindi : Lewis Carroll, Beckett, Racine, Pagnol). Pour ses œuvres en hindi, voir l’article qui lui est consacré (Montaut, ce volume).

Originaire d’une petite bourgade dans l’actuel Pakistan, il a directement été témoin de la Partition à laquelle est consacré son second roman et qui a selon lui marqué l’essentiel de son œuvre ultérieure, car elle participa erucialement au sentiment de dislocation intérieure qu’il appelle l’état d’exil.

L’entretien avec Alok Bhalla présenté dans la colonne gauche est centré sur la Partition, les propos présentés dans la colonne de droite, dont la structure est celle du fragment, et qui sont le texte de deux conférences prononcées au Collège de France en avril 2000, portent sur la condition de l’artiste en exilé, suivi d’extraits de l’ouvrage critique Jav āb Nahĩ [Pas de réponse] traduits du hindi. Les raisons de cette disposition, reprise de celle que Derrida adopte pour Glas, correspondent au souci de laisser les deux textes se faire écho et de reproduire dans leur disposition matérielle la fragmentation qui en est le cœur.

Alok Bhalla est professeur d’anglais au Central Institute for English and Foreign Languages d’Hyderabad. Spécialiste de la littérature hindi et ourdou de la Partition (Stories about the Partition of India), il est aussi auteur de traductions en anglais, dont R āt kā Reporter de Nirmal Verma et diverses nouvelles d’Intazar Husain, ainsi que d’une anthologie de la littérature contemporaine, New Writings from the Indian Subcontinent, Macmillan India.

SELF REFLECTIONS IN A BROKEN MIRROR

1Alok Bhalla: Your novel, Guzra Hua Zamana, about life in West Punjab before the partition of India, was published in 1981, more than thirty years after you had witnessed the events that destroyed the world you had known till 1947. What struck me as I read the novel was that mingled with pain over the loss of friends and home were memories of an exuberant childhood. As I read the book, I was reminded of what the Pakistan! novelist, Intizar Husain, who has written extensively about the Partition and his childhood in India, said to me recently during the course of an interview. We were discussing the opening section of his novel, Basti, which is set in a mythical small town called Rupnagar but located some-where in Uttar Pradesh before 1947. Intizar Sahib said that Rupnagar was a fictional idealization of Dibai, the basti where he was born and where he had heard religions and mythical stories from his Muslim and Hindu neighbors. It was there, during his years of childhood, he said, that he had learned to think about his own self and the civilization he had inherited. It was his life there which had taught him what was culturally and morally ideal.

2Your novel, too, is based upon your childhood memories of life in a small town near Gujrat. The narrator, Beero, is clearly based upon your own life. Beero’s friends, too, are so intimately drawn that one feels that Aslam, Keshav, Hardayal and Jeeta are modeled on friends you had grown up with. The friendship between these children is genuine and deep. It exists in spite of their religions differences and survives the growing political tensions in the 1930s Punjab.

3Did you, when you were growing up, feel that the town as you had known it would someday be tom apart by communal hatred and plunged into genocidal madness? did you, like Intizar Husain, feel that the friendships between the children described in the novel were examples of all that was fine and worthy in our civilization, and which the partition had destroyed – perhaps permanently?

  • 2 The novel was written twice, the definite version several years after the first draft because the a (...)

4Krishna Baldev Vaid: First, let me say that Guzra Hua Zamana is an extension of the story of Beero I had written in a novel called Uska Bachpan. That novel was published in 19572 [...]. The two books should be read together. So, I did try to deal with my experiences of life in pre-Partition Punjab soon after the horrors of 1947 that I had witnessed. I should add that both the novels deal with Beero and his friends, Aslam, Keshav, Hardaya and Jeeta. You are right about Beero being drawn, in many ways, from my recollections of my own childhood. Beero’s friends are extension of his own selfhood, reflections of many aspects of his own desires and fears, fragments that make up the various pieces of his own anxieties. Perhaps, the prologue to Guzra Hua Zamana, in which Beero looks at his reflections in the shards of a mirror, gives a sense of the fact that he sees in all his friends fragments of his own – my own – self.

5a. b.: Partition brought an end to the life the fictional Beero had known. In what sense did it affect you personally?

6k. b. v.: Partition was an event that had a range of influences on me. It, of course, brought to an abrupt end all that I remember fondly about my friends and the town where I grew up. Its impact was so great that I’m still not aware of the variety of ways in which it changed my life. But, perhaps, the most important aspect of the partition for me personally was that if left in me a certain kind of fear and a permanent feeling of dislocation. À couple of years ago a friend of mine surprised me when he remarked that my entire writing was marked by fear, and that I would, perhaps, stop writing once I ceased to be afraid. I was absolutely stunned by his perceptive observation. After he had said that, I realized how right he was. Now I think I can locate that sense of fear. I find that my characters are haunted by a certain sense of uncertainty, a certain feeling of not belonging. The source of the fear caused by this awareness of dislocation lies in the days of partition. I should, however, add that, psychologically speaking, this sense of fear also lies in my childhood and my family life which was really difficult [...] But I have not yet addressed your remarks about Intizar Husain’s sense of his past life in the pre-Partition India and my own childhood. How do I think about the pre-partition days? Whenever I think about the town in which I was born and the ancestral village I used to visit sometimes to meet my grandparents, they rise before me with remarkable clarity...

7a. b.: Neither the town nor the village is named in the novel.

8k. b. v.: The town was called Dinga. It was near Gujrat; a town in West Punjab, which was the native place of Krishna Sobti. We didn’t belong to that place and we owned no property there. Our ancestral village was Dera Bakshian, near Rawalpindi. I can still see the two places vividly. The town more than the village. I can, even now, close my eyes and walk through the stieets of the town, recall the houses, the mosques, and the faces. I can’t say that about Delhi where I have spent more years. Nor can I imagine as vividly those places in America where I spent many years of my life. In this sense the partition was a strange break. I left my childhood behind in the town of my birth. The partition has perhaps kept my child-hood memories alive. So, in a sense, I do identify with Intizar Husain when he says that he owes everything to the world of his child-hood. Whatever I’m now, I’m as a result of my past life in the regions where I grew up.

a. b.: The novel renders this sense of fear and dislocation with great sensitivity. Beero, as the prologue makes it clear, finds it difficult to corne to terms with the world he finds himself in after the partition. He even tries to commit suicide. It’s clear that he is an extension of yourself. When he thinks about his town, one feels that he has a deep sense of belonging. He identifies with all the different kinds of characters he cornes across there and he seems to know them intimately – or at least he thinks he does and so can make them a part of his fantasy world. He knows each Street, each mosque, and each face behind the curtained Windows. Are the friends of Beero – Aslam, Keshav, Hardayal – also extensions of yourself?

9k. b. v.: No, they are not. I didn’t say that. I said, rather, that they are extensions of Beero. Though Beero is a projection of myself... well, not entirely... I have consciously exaggerated many of their experiences with their families and friends... distorted them in all sorts of ways. That was also what I did in Uska Bachpan, which stops with Beero’s childhood. If you read that little novel carefully, you will notice that it has premonitions of the partition. The air is full of slogans like ‘Inqilab zindabad’, etc. The only difference with the later novel is that in Uska Bachpan, Beero is more immersed in his own life, and is trying to deal with it with his own sense of humour. But the novel lies the groundwork for Guzra Hua Zamana. Twenty-five years later, after writing Uska Bachpan, I was compelled to carry the story of Beero further.

10In the prologue to Guzra Hua Zamana, there is a brief interplay between the narrator (Beero) and the writer, which recapitulates the essential elements of Beero’s childhood in his family – his fear of his mother, his pity for his helpless father, his unhappiness, etc. The novel takes the story further and describes Beero’s school and college days, and makes the relationship with his friends more complex. Beero has a strange set of friends. Each one of them is eccentric. I thought of them – including Yanike (In-Other-Words) and Emperor – as the conscience keepers of the town. This is true of Yanike, who is genuinely mad. Keshav, a peculiar boy who always insists on telling the truth, is a bridge between the group of boys with Beero and some eccentric elders who try to keep the peace between the different communities. At the end, when the riots finally do break out, Keshav goes over the edge. As far as Beero is concerned, the dislocation of the partition only makes his sense of alienation even more acute.

11a. b.: Why did you choose Beero as narrator?

12k. b. v.: The strategy to adopt the point of view of a not so innocent youngster was deliberate. Beero is both innocent and cunning. That gave me a chance to look at the whole experience of growing up during the partition in a larger context. As a child, Beero can move in and out of places that would never have been open to adults. He can, therefore, speak about his school and about the homes of people like Dari and Kumari: he can eavesdrop on gossip about Dr. Sahni and his wife’s affairs with Master Bihari Lal, record the salacious stories about the Wrestler Vishwa and Sham Pyari, etc. His language too can be free and less self-conscious.

13a. b.: Yes, I remember the wonderful conversation between Aslam and him about the Arabic word, ‘ishq ’ – love – a word adopted also by Punjabi. Why did you choose to locate the story in a small town – apart from the fact that it was a fictional reconstruction of the town in which you had grown up?

14k. b. v.: It was the town of my birth, yes. But it was also a town which in many ways was typical of Western Punjab. I used it to create a microcosm of the kind of relations that existed between different communities in the late 1930s and 40s. The town was made up of Hindus and Sikhs who were surrounded by Muslims. The Muslims were a majority. The smallness of the town was an advantage. I could give a fuller account of the relationship between the communities – describe in detail their jealousies, their commonalites, their fears, etc.

15a. b.: One ofthe ways in which you construct the consciousness of Beero is to surround him by certain set of self-consciously chosen characters. Aslam is a renegade Muslim whose reading of the Quran is – well – heretical. He is, of course, a counterpart to Beero who sees hitnself as half-Muslim. Then there is Keshav. He is a Hindu, but a little baffled by all sorts of communal characterizations. Jeeta and Hardayal, who are Sikh boys, are the only ones who become more and more rigid about their religious identifies as the novel progresses, but who are not as fanatically religious in the beginning. In fact, in the first half of the novel, none of the boys are too concerned about their religious identifies. Their friendship survives despite the pressures of religious politics. The opening section of the novel, therefore, is less concerned with politics than with the childlike, though philosophically important, discussions about sexuality, betrayal, teaching, medicine, etc.

16You even seem to suggest, through the meetings of these friends, that there was always the possibility of a vibrant multi-religious society whose tensions had little to do with religion. The tensions were, rather, a result of the usual quarrels in the marketplace, the whorehouse, or the school. Further, since the town is a microcosm of Punjab, you seem to suggest that prior to the Pakistan demand, there was a thriving composite society that was destroyed by the intrusion of religious politics. Am I right?

17k. b. v.: Well, yes, but not entirely. You must remember that even in the novel’s first half the relationships in the town are fraught with communal tensions for a number of social, economic and political reasons. So are relations between Beero and his friends. For instance, when Beero goes to Aslam’s house, he is under the instructions of his mother not to eat food there. He does eat out of a sense of défiance – also, of course, because he thinks that it’s tastier than the stuff he gets at his own home! Anyway, Aslam’s mother is nervous about the fact and worried about what would happen if Beero’s mother were to find out.

18a. b.: That sequence is rather delightfully described in Uska Bachpan too. Beero is so tempted by the smells of the curries that he begins to eat even before he is invited to do so. Aslam’s sister, Hafeeza, teases him and says that he has, by eating with them, become a Muslim. Beero’s sympathies – and yours also – are with Aslam’s family. And, of course, Beero’s eyes – and yours too – are on Hafeeza!

19k. b. v.: Well, yes!... In the town there were also other kinds of tensions between the Hindus and the Muslims. Between the Hindu moneylenders and their Muslim clients for example... Similarly, Hindus refused to buy milk from the Muslim halwai, Gulam Nabi.

20a. b.: Indeed, it’s left to the young boy, Aslam, to point out at the very beginning that, if the Hindus continue to discriminate against the Muslims, it would be impossible to stop the creation of Pakistan. If the Hindus, he argues, refuse to buy sweets from Gulam Nabi because he is dirty – a common canard against the Muslims – then why do they buy pakoras from Nathu Sher whose stuff is full of insects and worms? Keshav and Beero agree with him, but the rest of the community is unconcerned with the logic of children. I should add that in your novel the children are deeply aware of the social world around them.

21k. b. v.: Yes, that’s true. l’m always surprised when my critics accuse me of being too subjective in my novels, of not paying sufficient attention to the social reality. In Guzra Hua Zamana the characters are deeply immersed in the social and political life of the town. Each character in it acquires substance because he occupies a particular place in the social and religious structure. I hope that cornes across clearly and that I’m not imposing a reading on the novel. The town depicted in the novel is not a later contrivance. It’s an intimate part of my memories, and the characters are never separate from its social milieu.

22a. b.: When you look back upon your days in that town, do you think about them nostalgically?

23k. b. v.: Even now, when I recall those days, I think that my childhood with my friends – not always with my family – was a very wonderful one. But is was always shadowed by the menacing presence of communal tensions. I remember that as children we always thought that there were some dangerous cracks somewhere in the very heart of their society. In the novel, I suggest that it’s the children, and not the adults, who are fully conscious of the presence of these cracks and are afraid. Let me put it differently: the children in the novel are aware of the fact that the peace in their society is fragile. They sense the coming crisis and fear that the emergence of Pakistan is inevitable.

24I don’t take the liberal position, either in the novel or in my other writings, that the demand for Pakistan was a sudden and freakish affair. Given the social conditions that I had witnessed, I would still maintain that the Pakistan movement had to happen. Nor am I one of those who believe that the blood-curdling events of 1946-47 were freakish and could have been avoided totally. They could hâve been handled differently perhaps. The violence could have been minimized, and those who were responsible for keeping the peace could have been more active. But the crisis itself could not hâve been averted. Given the cracks that had appeared in the composite culture, the partition was waiting to happen – it had to happen.

25a. b.: Could you elaborate on that? In the novel, does Beero have the feeling that there are serious cracks in the structure of the society, and that the life he has known is about to break apart?

26k. b. v.: Yes, he does. Throughout the novel, in some incipient form, he is aware of it. In fact, the entire group of children who hang around Beero is aware of the coming crisis. When I rummage through my memories – and the entire novel is a result of such rummaging – I can locate specific ins-tances that made me aware of the cracks in the communal realities of that society. I couldn’t have written the novel if I had not been able to recall those numerous moments, those experiences.

27I grew up among Muslims and Sikhs. As a child I went to Sardar Hakam Singh High School. Roughly, half my teachers were Muslims. It was a poor school compared to the other one in town, the Rai Bahadur Sunderdas High School, which was richer and paid its teachers a regular salary, and which was founded by a man who had made his money during the First World War. He died in the great earthquake in Quetta. He had two wives. One was his legitimate wife, the other was a kept woman about whom there were many rumours – or, rather, there were a series of people who claimed to visit her regularly. He lived in a palatial building that had electricity. My school had an eclectic group of teachers who didn’t – who couldn’t hâve – commanded more money elsewhere. But I must add that our teachers were good. The headmaster was a very brilliant Sardar. Since it was a Sikh school, there were Sikh prayers every morning. The entire school had to stand during the morning assembly and listen. Actually there were two prayers. One was from the Shabad, read by a Giani who also gave us a sermon... The other was a secular prayer for the non-Sikhs: ‘Jane jahan kahan hai tu...’ There was a teacher of Islam who used to read to us from the Quran. It was a very progressive school. And very British. The headmaster used to carry a cane with which he used to beat himself and us! It also had a school band and a drillmaster – all the accoutrements of the British! Every morning, during assembly, the headmaster used to read out the head-lines from the newspaper. That’s where I got my political awareness. I think that in some unconscious way, I understood as a child that there was a relationship between the poverty of the school and the religious backgrounds of those who went to it.

28I said that I was aware of the crisis in some unconscious way, because as a child I didn’t have – and most children don’t – a political position or a clear sense of the politics being played out. What was, however, clear to me was that our behaviour was at odds with what our parents wanted us to do. This is understandable. It would have taken a more obvious, a more explicit kind of genocide, or hostility over a much longer period, for us children to have been affected by the communal crisis. Anyway, on the surface, life in the town was seemingly peaceful. But, even as a child growing up in the 1930s, I was aware that something was seriously wrong. Unlike others, therefore, I would never claim that, under-neath the peaceful surface, crises hadn’t begun to appear.

29I had begun to question the taboos of my parents. I wanted to know why I couldn’t eat at the house of my Muslim friends. I was attracted by the food cooked there. It smelled different, and tasted better. I was also, like any child, curions.

30a. b.: In the novel, Beero constantly complains that his mother can’t cook at all!

31k. b. v. (laughs): Yes, that also... As children, we were also witness to the activities of political parties like the Khaskar Party, the Muslim League and the Bajrang Bali. Each of them spoke in communal terms.

32There is another matter I would like to comment upon. As young boys, we were also becoming conscious of our own sexuality. In the novel, I deal with that. People often want to shut their eyes to the sexual world of children, deny it. I don’t want to do that. As young boys, we were attracted to Muslim girls, just as Muslin boys were attracted to Hindu girls. Every now and then there were attempted elopements by boys and girls belonging to different religions. I often saw Hindu shopkeepers flirt with Muslim girls, who probably didn’t object – who probably liked it. A man would accidentally touch someone – seemingly accidentally fondle someone’s breasts. The girl would smile. This sort of thing happens in any society, I suppose. It’s normal. Occasionally, and I know this from my own expériences, a Hindu or a Sikh should fall in love with a Muslim woman and marry her. I describe the story of Hara Singh and Nooran in the novel. It’s based on an incident that actually happened in my town. There was, of course, a scandai. There is also a woman like Shyam Pyari. She had Muslim lovers. Everybody knew about it. People gossiped about her affairs. Rumours about her lovers were rampant.

33In the novel, I describe all these sexual affairs. They were part of the reality of the town, a part of our reality as growing boys. The woman from the other religion was also attractive because relations with her were forbidden by custom. There is always a compulsion to break the taboo. As safely as possible, of course (laughs)! But the point is that these sexual taboos were broken in every town where there was a mixed population of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. There was no absolute majority of any one community. These taboos were broken in Punjab and Bengal. In towns and villages. These relations happened even under the threat of some kind of explosion.

34Anyway, I don’t know how much of what I have said is a projection of my later development. But, when I search myself, I’m sure that the seed of what I have described must have been there. I was a very precocious child, even if 1 say so (laughs). My precociousness probably came from my isolation at home. At home, I was a minority of one! I was ambivalent towards my father and mother. Perhaps, because I was a sickly child, I was driven to brood and reflect on myself a lot more than I would hâve in a happier situation. A certain kind of morbidity was built into my conscious-ness because of my circumstances – both because of our poverty and the bad conjugal relationship between my parents. From a novelist’s point of view it was a very rich experience! (laughs)

35a. b.: By the way, what did your father do?

36k. b. v..: He was a Patwari. He was a good man, but also a feckless sort of man. He was not very educated, but he had an educated mind. I learned my Urdu from him. His tastes were very good. But he didn’t do well, either in his job or at home.

37a. b.: [...] The point I want to make is that your description seems to reinforce my sense that Punjabi society in the pre-partition days was created out of a complex and rich interaction of people. This richness of interaction was precisely what made up the civilization called India. There were, of course, tensions between the communities that made up your town. But, from what you have said, it’s also obvious that there were available processes through which these tensions could be contained and resolved. Was there something compelling in your experiences which suggested to you that the composite culture of the town, and hence of the nation, would fall apart someday? Even if you were aware, as a child, of the cracks in the society, were you really apprehensive of the fact that the world you knew would corne crashing down – and with such an explosive force?

38k. b. v.: There were tensions between the communities – not animosity, perhaps. But one must face facts... I’m all for establishing a composite culture in India. I have always supported the idea of such a culture. I believe it was a desirable ideal when I was growing up and I still think it’s worth having. In hindsight, I can say that I was one of the sanest people in that town – so were my friends! (laughs) Hardayal and Jeeta became distorted in their attitudes later, after 1947. However, during the time when things were getting hot and people were busy setting up peace committees, I think that many people deluded themselves into believing that nothing would really happen. It’s possible that they were nervous, but I think they were not alert to the fact that there were cracks in the society, and that these cracks were dangerous. I’m not one of those people who believe that the riots of the 1940s were started everywhere by some mischievous persons who didn’t belong to that particular town or village. I think they were caused by conditions that were present internally in the communities themselves.

39As much as I admire Bhisham Sahni, I don’t think that the opening of Tamas is authentic. I don’t think it should be seen as emblematic of the partition. I think it’s misguided. The riots were not necessarily caused by opportunists. To say that shifts the onus of whatever happened onto some vicious and conniving politicians who played on our weakness and fear. What the politicians did was to light the spark that started the fire. The keg of gunpowder was always there. What I’m saying is that it’s wrong to assume that the tensions were not serious.

40Well, at this point, let me say clear-ly that I think Pakistan should not have corne into being. I’m not one of those who have corne to believe that in hindsight. I felt this even when I was growing up. I was older than Beero when the partition occurred. I was twenty-years old. In the novel, I deliberately made Beero younger because he has the kind of innocence I wanted to use as a device. I wanted to present that period through eyes that were innocent and were shocked by the things they saw. I also wanted to show Beero’s process of learning and of growing up. I should add that the same was the case with the characters like Keshav, Jeeta, Hardayal and others.

What I want to say is that the partition should not have happened. I can’t, however, add that if the partition had not happened the Hindus and the Muslims would hâve lived happily ever after. No. We would still have the kinds of riots we have experienced ever since 1947 in Bombay or Hyderabad (with which you are quite familiar). The grounds for these riots existed then and still exist. Fifty years later, I still can’t say that the Hindus and the Muslims have learnt much from their experiences. So, I’m not of those who can look back on the experiences of the partition days, and say, ‘a pox on both your houses’, and stop at that. Nor do I have much faith in the literature of the partition which says only that. I can’t entirely accept it when people say that the violence was a very deplorable thing, which happened either because events went out of control or because some unscrupulous politicians took ad-vantage of the tensions. There is, of course, some truth to both the statements. But only a partial truth. The greater truth is that there were cracks in the relations between the Hindus and the Muslims, cracks that were never mended properly – and which have not been mended even now. These cracks were – and still are – in the memories of the two communities – or, rather, three, since we should now also talk of the Sikhs. The existence of these cracks was a part of the experiences of these communities.

41Some of these cracks were caused – and here my perception is Marxist – by the nature of the basic economie relations between the communities. It’s not that the Hindus were cruel and exploitative as a community, but the Muslims did feel exploited.

42a. b.: Were there no rich Muslim landlords and poor Hindu tenants?

43k. b. v.: Yes, there were. There were, of course, some rich Muslim landlords. But the general, the popular, perception amongst the Muslims was that they were the exploited people. Their anger was particularly directed against the Hindu moneylenders. The Muslims felt that they were being sucked dry by them.

44The Muslims of Punjab were illeducated. At least that was the popular perception – and there was some truth in that. Maybe, the fault was their own. But the fact remains that they were an exploited people. This was used by people like Jinnah. He found there a fertile soil. There is no point in slurring over the fact.

45So, much as I think that the society in which I grew up was very rich, and had all the complexities of a composite culture, I also think that one could appreciate its beauty only if one also closed one’s eyes to its economic and social realities. It was a culture that hurt the average, the intelligent Muslim. It hurt him to know that the Hindu would not eat with him, whereas he had no objection buying sweets from a Hindu halwai. The Muslim had no food taboos. It was the one-sidedness of the taboo that hurt him. Sexual taboos were on both sides. They didn’t hurt him. Both the Hindus and the Muslims guarded the virginity of their women – as they do even now! There were very few interreligious marriages and love affairs. This was because there was little real interaction between the two communities, except in certain classes. Unless somebody had the guts to break the barriers. These barriers were not new. I think they existed even in the past. I wish they weren’t there. Had never been there. I would like to live in a composite culture. There are hardly any Muslims in the area in which I live here in Delhi. One has to seek out the few who live here. We have created Muslim ghettoes – we always had them. Why aren’t enough Muslim characters in modern Hindi fiction? There aren’t enough of them because our experiences are increasingly different.

46a. b.: [...] At what point did these cracks appear in the India psyche? When did people become conscious of the fact that they belonged to two different cultures, two different modes of living? I ask this because the proponents of the ‘two-nation theory’ say that the partition was natural and inevitable because the Hindus and the Muslims had forever followed their own and separate paths, and that these paths had never crossed. I don’t believe that. What is presented as ‘natural’ in human affairs is often nothing but a resuit of historical circumstances. Was the very notion of a unified Hindu or Muslim society, or the consciousness of a composite culture, a myth?

  • 3 Respectively ‘brothers’ and ‘enemies’.

47k. b. v.: These cracks, I think, appeared as soon as economie and political issues came to the forefront. They were handled badly. For example, the question of separate electorales. It should have been faced seriously, instead of merely asserting that Hindus and Muslims were ‘bhai-bhai’. I’m not saying that they were ‘dushmans’3. But sentimental assertions of brotherhood don’t take care of the real problems. Why didn’t the Hindus search themselves and ask what it was about the Muslims that they didn’t like? Apart from the nonsense that they were dirty and smelled. Muslims, of course, said similar things about the Hindus – that they were cowards and ate lentils. Think of the Jews – similar kinds of name-calling went on about them. Behind all these ostensibly jocular remarks is the reality of the divide that existed before the partition. The divide didn’t become apparent earlier because no one wanted to challenge the status quo. The moment the Muslims radically challenged the status quo by demanding a separate homeland, the cracks became apparent. Instead of dealing with the demand in a forthright manner, we tried to deal with it sentimentally. Gandhi’s position was sentimental – though he wasn’t temperamentally a sentimentalist; he was hard and a realist. His heart was, of course, in the right place. But no one understood that the partition demand should never have been accepted – at any cost. We would have had bloodshed even then, but not on the scale on which it did happen once the partition demand was accepted. I think that even at that time there were people like me who would have accepted the existence of differences, instead of asserting that everything was ‘peachy’ between the communities. But, somehow, l’m convinced that the dietary division amongst the Hindus and the Muslims was one of the most important causes why the Muslims desired a separate homeland. Where the dietary prohibitions hâve disappeared, as in modern urban areas, the relations between the two communities are much better. Though the economic discrimination and ghetto-ization continue. So, the Hindus have to accept responsibility for the parti-tion, while the Muslims hâve to dis-invest themselves of the memories of once having been the conquerors of India. That’s part of the psyche of the Muslims. Let’s accept that. Just as the Hindu psyche is still that of one that has been conquered. We are, after all, talking about the masses and not of the enlightened or liberal members of both the communities. But at the popular level the psyche of the Hindu and the Muslim hasn’t changed much. This becomes apparent whenever there are riots. Both communities still distrust each other – even if we accept the fact that the riots are often the work of some scoundrel, some scoundrel who ignites the fire.

48a. b.: In both your novels you do talk extensively about dietary and sexual taboos as being humiliating. When you begin to discuss the politics of the Muslim League, however, a different kind of analysis seems to corne into play. Jinnah, for example, appears in the nightmares of Beero. Why? That seems to contradict what you have just said, that the partition did have some justification. Jinnah fed upon the legitimate grievances of the Muslims. Yet in the novel Jinnah is a part of the nightmares of the children.

  • 4 Bhalla says later: “One of the finer qualifies of Guzra Hua Zamana is the way in which it successfu (...)

49k. b. v.: The hero of these children up to the last minute was Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was for them the spokesman of peace. At some deep subliminal level, they felt threatened by Jinnah. After all, their lives were under threat during the partition... I suppose that as a novelist, I’m trying to have my cake and eat it also. I was trying to confine myself to describing the experiences of a group of young boys who were sixteen or seventeen years of age. I imagined Beero as a spokesman for all of them. So is Aslam. Both are, of course, more than that also... Aslam is dying of consumption. Consumption, as you know, is always significant in literature both in India and abroad [...] I plead guilty to having used it as a generic narrative prop... So Beero begins to have those nightmares. His dreams have Jinnah and others. He still regards his Muslim friends sympathetically and has no problems dealing with them as individuals. There is no sentimentality in his relations with them, at least not of the obvions kind. I have tried to burn sentimentality ont4. There is not a single scene with Beero where I, as a novelist, cry. Though there are scenes with other people where I do find myself crying.

50a. b.: As in the last scene?

51k. b. v.: Actually, I started the novel with that scene. It’s central to the novel... There is an abandoned child. He is dying and no one knows what to do with it. Beero cries.

52a. b.: Was it based on something you actually witnessed?

  • 5 “Humanity has not yet died.”

53k. b. v.: It was imagined from the point of view of people who had survived the carnage. And there was carnage... It’s very difficult to write honestly about the partition. Some Urdu critics have rightly said that much of the writing about the period seems to fall into a formula which tries to establish that bad things were done on both sides. Writers about the partition seem to feel compelled to apportion blame equally and to find some saving grace on both sides. The basic impulse behind that compulsion was good. I don’t want to criticize it. It was comforting to know that there were exceptional men like Bukka, the butcher, who saved our lives. It made us feel – insaniyat abhi mari nahin5. Such impulses too were inherent to the situation.

54But the problem with writing a novel about partition is that one cannot be truthful only to one kind of experience. Imagine a writer, whether Hindu or Muslim doesn’t matter, who genuinely feels that the Muslim anger was justified – not the killing – and wants to create such a character sympathetically. He should have the right to do so. Or a Hindu writer who wants to show why a Hindu could go mad in the situation and kill a Muslim – who wants to show why such a character thinks he is justified. There should be scope for this kind of writing [...] Why is it so difficult to write honestly (perhaps that’s not the right word), write genuinely about the experience of the partition? Why does ail writing fall into a pattern? Whether it’s Bhisham Sahni or Manto (who, of course, wrote with greater indignation and savage anger) or others, all of them seem to shout, ‘a pox on both your houses’ Isn’t that so? I don’t have an answer. But in my novel I did try to avoid the simplicities of a novel like Jutha Such by Yashpal [...] I didn’t go too far beyond my own experiences. My hope was to achieve a certain kind of novelistic generalization that was applicable to the larger society. The cracks I have been talking about were there in the novel also.

55a. b.: [The characters ofthe youngsters oppose violence with radical solutions and] their ideas, however eccentric they may sound at that historical juncture, emerge from their experiences of living within a certain kind of civilization. There has to be a recognition of the strength of the civilization which gives them a base upon which they can construct their lives together during a time when the forces of history were trying to bring about a division between communities. They may be crazy individually, but even in their craziness they are capable of drawing upon a rich compositeness of experience and memory within the civilization which has essentially formed them.

56So, it seems to me that there is a wide gap between what you seem to be saying now about the cracks in the society of the time that had become apparent, and what seems to be happening in the novel. In the novel the characters still draw upon a rich store of commonly shared civilizational memories.

57k. b. v.: What I’m trying to say is that, if we have to learn anything from the expérience of partition, if we have to undo the damage partition did to us – not in terms of the loss of life, but in terms of perpetuating the divide – then we cannot flinch away from the basic reality. If we harp on the civilizational unity of India – only on the positive side of it which is always under threat and which will always collapse under a similar threat again – then we haven’t done what we are required to do. So, if I have to theorize, I would have to say I’m extremely pessimistic about the notion that India’s composite civilization was strong, and would be strong again. Look around, we may still have some vestiges of that civilization still left in India, but there are none in Pakistan (at least in any significant way). If we have to, at least in the long run, undo the damage caused by the partition, then we can’t remain oblivious of the divide, which led to the partition. The only way to deal with the facts of the divide between the Hindus and the Muslims is to confront them, not seek to abolish them, hide from them. We should talk about them in an analytic and constructive manner – a civilized manner – and so find rational ways of solving problems when they arise. Unfortunately, no one is doing so. The leftists, like all other parties, speak about the Hindu-Muslim problem in bad faith. We can’t continue to offer the old liberal evasions.

58a. b.: [...] What I’m trying to suggest to you is something like this: Let us concede the fact that the horror of the partition was a result of our own actions. Let us also concede that in the past there were strong bonds between the Hindus and the Muslims even as there were atrocities committed by Muslim invaders and Hindu rulers. I’m trying to deal here with someone like Romila Thapar who, in her extremely popular history of ancient India, tries to establish the fact that India was a composite culture – a fact which I strongly agree to – but thinks that such a thesis would be undermined if she were to hint at the fact that there were Muslim rulers who committed violence on their Hindu subjects – often because of their religions differences. I remember reading her description of the liberal and fair-minded rule of Mohammad-bin Tughlaq and being appalled by her refusai to also take into account the descriptions of his deliberate cruelty against some of his Hindu subjects described by his own historians – Baran for example, or Ibn Battuta. As if the mere acknowledgement of that would be a cause of communal strife in the present. I’m, of course, equally appalled by the historians of the Hindu right who think that precisely such an acknowledgement is a sufficient cause for continued infliction of pain on our Muslim citizens. History writing in India must become free from the fears of sparking off religious hatred.

THE STATE OF EXILE ROOTLESSNESS IN SEARCH OF ROOTS A PERSONAL TESTIMONY

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59Let me start be reconstructing my earliest memory of an actual exile. He was a distant uncle whom I used to watch, from a distance, with a fearful fascination, during my periodic visits to my ancestral village, now in Pakistan. It was an idyllic village surrounded by hills, its lanes paved with uneven rocks, its houses squat and neat, overshadowed by two rather alien looking mansions owned by two brothers, also distant uncles, who had pleased the British rulers by their loyalty during the First World War and had been rewarded by titles and acres of land. That village often cornes back to me in my memories and dreams where I almost always see its rockpaved lanes flooded with warbling water during the monsoon, those mansions imperfectly reflected in the water. The distant uncle, the one whom we kids dreaded as well as adored, had returned to the village after years of absence in Japan where, according to the rumours, he had banished himself after his involvement in a seditious act against the British. As against those two wealthy distant uncles, this renegade and rebellions distant uncle was our hero. He had about him the aura of a man who had been through strange experiences in strange lands; he seemed to be steeped in an impenetrable silence that set him apart from everybody else; he had bloodshot eyes that fascinated as well as frightened me. His voice, on the rare occasions we heard it, was deep and resonant with strange tones. Everybody treated him with a special sort of respect one feels for a mysterious stranger. He was our Japanese uncle. I never could muster enough nerve to ask him about his life and adventures in Japan but I always wanted to. I wondered about his past ceaselessly. I used to hover about him like a spy, always looking for clues to what went on in his mind. The word exile had not yet entered my vocabulary but the concept apparently had, for I had a burning curiosity about his long absence in Japan and about what made him look so odd and mysterious. I did not know how he spent all of his time in the village but I did know he spent some of it digging the rocky slope of a hillock not too far from the village. I recall one occasion when I was nearby and he answered an elder’s query as to why he was digging that hillock by saying, “Just in order to sweat, nothing more, just in order to sweat.” I still remember the rueful smile that accompanied his odd answer. Now I think of him as an Indian Sisyphus, performing his futile labour, living in a sort of double exile in his native village, haunted by his past in Japan, digging that rocky slope in search of roots that were lost to him forever, trying to hide his anguish in that rueful smile and his odd answer. Later, much later, after the partition of India, I ran into him in Delhi and began calling upon him occasionally. He lived by himself in a small rented room in Old Delhi, still immersed in an impenetrable silence, still passing the time, I learnt, in assisting a master potter, perhaps still digging some actual or imaginary rocky slope in search of his lost roots, still smiling ruefully as an Indian Sisyphus that he was.

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60When I went to Lahore, now in Pakistan, as a young boy of sixteen, for what was then called my ‘higher studies’, I lived for an awkward while with my unhappily married sister in her apartment in a large building, part of which was occupied by a famous nationalist leader, also a distant uncle. In India, as you perhaps know, almost everybody is almost everybody’s distant uncle or aunt or nephew or niece or whatever. In winter when the sun was out, that venerable old man could be seen on his terrace, pacing without a pause, his head bent, lost in his reveries. Every now and then, however, he would stop, raise his head, and gaze at some point in the distant heavens. I used to imagine he was addressing God ans asking Him some profound questions soaked in his own profound silence. I used to escape from my melancholic preoccupation with the unhappiness of my sister and my own forlorness in the unfamiliar city into extended broodings about that old man. He too had been involved in some serious seditious act against the British rulers who had first sentenced him to death, then commuted it to a life-long imprisonment in the notorious penal colony on the Andaman Islands, popularly known as kala pani (black water). He had been pardoned on health grounds, and he had corne back to Lahore, after years of exile, and was now reportedly working on his autobiography. His sad silences and rueful smiles reminded me of my other distant uncle; his autobiographical project struck me as another version of a Sisyphusian task he had assigned himself to pass the time. He too seemed to be living in a sort of double exile. He too seemed to be digging some invisible rocky slope in search of his lost roots. By then the word exile had enter-ed my vocabulary. I recall that about that time I had started reading Dostoiewsky’s Crime and Punishment whose hero brought to my consciousness some dim intimations of another kind of exile in which I saw some disturbing foreshadowings of my own morbidity.

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61The small town in which I grew up, also now in Pakistan, is now lost to me forever, it seems, except in my memories and dreams. That town has been a veritable reservoir of memorable characters and indelible expériences for me. It had a good number of interesting outsiders all of whom cast their spell on me, a spell that seems to have a life-long effect. All of them were extraordinary eccentrics; all of them were objects of general awe as well as ridicule; all of them were misfits; all of them often gave expression to insights and perceptions that were unusually keen; many of them could be called insane; but all of them were tolerated perhaps because the townspeople regarded these outsiders as necessary safety valves for their own pent-up outsiderly inclinations. I was in any case one of their fans, perhaps the most assiduous one among my friends. I followed some of them around as they idled away their day in the serpentine bazaar. Perhaps I saw them even as my kin and admired them because they stood for what I did not dare to stand for – an utter disregard for normal social proprieties. And, perhaps even then – a confused and self-tortured boy that I was – that at some future stage they would be available to me as characters. I am afraid I have not been able to make a proper novelistic use of many of these characters and my memories of them and that town. To do proper justice to them would have required a Proustian patience and a Dickensian imagination, and of course a genius to match, all of which I lack. But I have tried to transform some of them into my characters in the aforementioned Guzra Hua Zamana/The Broken Mirror. The insanity of these characters is saner than the barbarie behaviour of the normal people around them, all of whom are lustily engaged in mutual massacre and much worse on the eve of India’s partition. While the sane ones are busy killing, the insane ones lay down their lives in their desperate efforts to stop the killing. The narrator, nicknamed as the local Nietzsche, the rejected lover, the compulsive public masturbator, the kingly fakir – they dedicate their lives to saving their town from destruction in the midst of mind-less butchery and savage hatred.

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62Allow me to raid that reservoir of seminal experiences, my town Dinga, for yet another memory. I was eleven or twelve when one sultry afternoon I heard a rumour that a mysterious vagabond in colourful rags had been spotted, lying outside a prostitute’s house in the famous Prostitutes’ lane, singing a soulful song in a voice that made him sound like Majnoon, the legendary lover of Laila. I used to walk that lane at least twice every schoolday on my way to and back from school. It was the neatest lane in the town. And the most romantic. It smelled of forbidden deeds and had an aura of an exotic world made famous by a ravishing prostitute called Mumtaz Shanti who had gone to Lahore and made it big there. She maintained that lane and several of her less successful sisters in a State of enviable comfort and clean-liness. So I dashed to the lane and saw a crowd of curious spectators standing around the recumbant figure of a man – hollow-cheeked but hand-some, sporting a short beard that gave him the appearance of a rejected lover in my eyes, wearing beautiful rags. He was looking up at the high heavens through his large sad eyes, humming a heart-rending Urdu ghazal. I was enthralled, so it seemed was everybody else. For several days after that I saw him at several other places. It was rumoured that the prostitutes had driven him out of their lane as he was bringing a bad name to it. Throughout his sojourn in the town, he remained as tantalizingly interesting and alien to me as he had been on the first day. Of course, I never dared to talk to him. His aura, however, was enough for me. I did not want to know the whole truth about him. The various rumours were more than enough for me, and of those there were several: He was of course reported to be a rejected lover of the famous Mumtaz Shanti and had decided to corne to her native town in order to whip up sympathy for his cause; he was a spy of the British and had been deployed by them to keep a vigilant eye on the local freedom fighters; he was an escapee from a prison; he was a lost soul in search of his lost parents, and some more. Of all these rumours, the one that moved me most was the last one: I was enraptured by the idea of a lost soul in search of his lost parents.

63His double loss put him beyond the pale and made him into an eternal outsider far more interesting than a mere rejected lover or a govern-ment spy. He disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. The town forgot him soon enough and went on with its multifarious life. But he is embedded in my consciousness as an exemplar of the eternal exile in search of his lost home.

5

64My early exposure to an actual exile and several outsiders and my empathy with them inspired me to attempt my first story when I was in high school. That town I have been trying to evoke here was rife with religiosity. The source of my poor attempts at a story was my agnostic mind. I had recently lost my faith as a result of a private argument with God who had failed me when He failed to perform a miracle, a very minor one at that, and mend my broken glasses during the rather short time I allowed Him while I sat prayerfully with my eyes closed. Even after losing faith, however, I continued to go to one of the local temples out of habit and boredom. Among the devout and ecstatic worshippers, some of whom would burst into song and dance fitfully, I sat nursing my grudge against my Maker and my growing disbelief in Him. And so I tried to write a story in which the hero was a young disbeliever, a nastik, surrounded by believers, trying very hard to understand what made them so devout and ecstatic. I do not remember now how bad the story was, how immature and ill-formed, but I do remember the sensation of dealing with a theme that seemed momentous to me and of trying to create a character who was too big for my grasp. I cherish that failure because it turned out to be a sort of seed-bed of my obsessive preoccupation with alienation and exile. The trauma of the partition, in which I was caught along with the rest of my family, is another experience that has, I think, left me permanently scarred and alienated [...] Suffice it to say that from my first novel onward, the anguish of alienation, in several of its manifestations, has been a recurring theme in my work – I may mention Bimal urf Jayen to Jayen Kahan (published as Bimal in Bog in English), Nasreen, Doosra na koi (published as Dying Alone in English), Dard la Dava, Kala Kolaj, and Maya Lok in this connection.

6

65And now a few straight words about exile. Exile is an elastic term that has, over the years, transcended, if not altogether lost, its original meaning. It is no longer used exclusively for an actual expulsion from one’s motherland to some ‘otherland’ – if I may borrow this interesting word from Joseph Brodsky – as a punishment for some political acts of commission or omission. Such acts – or activities that are perceived by the powers-that-be to be such acts – continue to be committed or omitted. And they continue to be punished, often unjustly as well as severely, sometimes even barbarically, but the punishment, in democratie countries, now rarely takes the form of a classical banishment. More often, those accused of political crimes previously punished by banishment are now imprisoned or interned within their own countries; they are also often gagged; and they are elimin-ated by procedures that wear thread-bare legal garbs and by methods that may appear civilized but are not. Quite often, they are prevented from leaving their home for a refuge elsewhere. This kind of coercive confinement under repressive conditions is no less intoler-able, and those condemned to this condition can be considered as exiles and they are. The concentration camps of Nazi Germany and the Gulags of Soviet Russia are beyond the pale of any normal category of definition.

66There are important shades of differences between an exile on the one hand and the émigré, an expatriate, a refugee, an immigrant, a displaced person, or a migrant on the other. But all these categories do overlap one another. The exilic State of mind – characterized by homesickness, anguish, ennui, nostalgia, nausea, a feeling of rootlessness, a metaphysical homelessness, a spiritual craving – is more or less a common factor in the psychospiritual composition of many people belonging to all these categories. Those who have this exilic State of mind in a virulent form or to an extreme degree may be termed as the true citizens, if I may resort to a paradox, of the State of exile even when they are not exiles, technically speaking.

7

67Exile then is a condition caused by alienation – physical or metaphysical or both – from one’s home; it may be voluntary or involuntary or both; and it can be from one’s self also, in which case one’s self is one’s home, metaphysical, if not physical. In its metaphysical aspects – and may I say that no alienation of any kind is ever altogether untinged by metaphysicality – alienation is inevitably from one’s self also. In fact, metaphysical alienation may or may not be accompanied or caused by physical alienation but physical alienation is almost always, sooner or later, overtaken by metaphysical alienation.

8

68Let me try again. Exile, in the sense which I am emphasizing now, is an experience of alienation, an intense experience, so intense that alienation begins to feel like extinction. Even when exile is self-willed or self-imposed instead of being a consequence of circumstances and situations beyond one’s control or ken, even when it is not a punishment imposed by an angry king or God or government, even when exile is not exactly exile but mere expatriation, it is accompanied by feelings of an ineradicable guilt which the exiles seek to assuage by yearning inconsolably for what they have been estranged from and feeling profoundly miserable. Exiles are always intent upon ending their estrangement; they always want to go back to what they have been estranged from, to be reunited, knowing all the while that they cannot go back home again, hoping, perversely, that they will not be able to do so. Exile is a State of disunity, disharmony, incompleteness. Even the most mundane form of exile has a spiritual dimension to it, which is why even the most comfortable and ordinary exile undergoes sufferings that are not just physical or mental or psychological but a suffering that is a Chemical composition of all these plus a large portion of the spiritual thrown into it. The exiles seem to be engaged in an incessant argument with God even if they do not believe in Him or His existence, even when they do not hold Him responsible for their exile from His kingdom. The exiles also seem to be engaged in an incessant argument with their own selves even if they do not believe in their own selves or their own existence, even when they do not hold their own selves responsible for their existence. This may be why a profound silence seems to surround all exiles even when they are not silent. The exiles are obsessed with thoughts of suicide but more often than not they refrain from suicide because they regard it essentially as a coward’s way out. The exile is not a coward; a coward is not an exile.

9

69All outsiders are exiles at heart; all exiles are eternal outsiders. They are perpetually engaged in a perpetual effort to end their condition of outsiderhood and exile even as their innermost desire is that their condition should continue forever. They begin to love their condition even as they suffer from it. They begin to love their suffering even as they try and want to end it. I am not accusing them of any conscious or simple-minded duplicity; I am only suggesting that their ambivalence toward their State of exile and outsiderhood is embedded in their innermost being. They want an end do their ambivalence and their condition but on their own terms, which they do not always know. Sometimes, of course, despite themselves, they are rescued by an overwhelming religious experience that sometimes transforms them into saints. But then as saints do they not continue to be exiles and outsiders, even though of a very exalted kind? Do they not drift farther away from their fellow beings as they get doser to God? If not always, most of the time? If not in every case, in most cases?

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70Some of my compatriots, many of whom are devout cultural nationalists, tend to believe, self-righteously, that the West alone is afflicted with decadence and decline, that the West alone is suffering from a variety of irrémediable maladies such as alienation and ennui, that the West alone is ultimately responsible for the moral, intellectual and spiritual pollu-tion that they see rampant in India and the rest of the so-called third world. A few of them would, paradoxically, even deny the existence of any such pollution in India even as they hold the West guilty of spreading it there. Alienation and exilic feelings, specifically, according to many of these people, are symptoms of a particularly Western disease that has infected some Indian writers like me through contagion with Western modernism and existentialism. I am afraid I do not agree with this kind of thinking. I see no basis for believing that we Indians are by some divine dispensation im-mune to alienation. I see no basis for believing that alienation is necessarily a disease or a symptom of some disease. On the contrary, I would like to suggest that alienation, in its profound aspect, along with exile, again in its profound aspect, is a universal phenomenon, not confined to times and countries that are called modem and modernized. Even in the most Traditional times and countries – Traditional with capital T – there were people who were alienated and who suffered from exilic feelings. Alienation has been the human lot since the very beginning whenever and wherever it was. I would like to imagine that all sentient beings have their moments and phases of alienation. We in India have a hoary and hallowed tradition of metaphysical alienation and exile enthroned in our great epies, our myths and legends, our great devotional poetry, our philosophical Systems, and our four-fold phases or ashrams of human life. Vairagya and virakti are our profound names for alienation. We have enshrined the concept and desirability of exile in vanaprastha ashram and sanyasa ashram, two out of the four stages or phases of human life. Vairagya can be seen as a visitation of the feeling of absurdity which sets one on the arduous path of self-realization, a path that winds its way through extreme and painful varieties of alienation and exile. All these ideas are not operative now but they are still part of the samskaras, the inner stream of the consciousness, of a vast majority of Indians. Arjuna, when he was assailed by paralyzing doubts and self-doubt in the battle field of Kurukshetra, was experiencing a profound variety of alienation. The great response he evoked from Krishna, in the form of Bhagvad Gita, in its essence is a philosophy of the sublimation and transcendence of alienation and the exilic State of mind through the noble and difficult doctrine of nishkam karma, anasakti, non-attachment. The concept of jeevanmukta, someone who is in the world but not of the world, is the noblest form of the exile. Buddha’s enlightenment was also preceded by a prolonged period of alienation and exile. Our bhakta poets – Kabir, Tulsidas, Tukaram, Nanak, Surdas, Mirabai – were great spiritual exiles and composed and sang great songs of spiritual exile. So I wish to reiterate in the end that we Indians hâve no reason to look askance at alienation and exile or to blame these conditions on the West. According to our philosophical and religious traditions, in which we ought to include the traditions of Indian Islam, alienation and exile are necessary preconditions for enlightenment except in those cases where some rare souls are born enlightened, but even those have their lapses that require the curative impact of alienation and exile.

THE ARTIST AS AN EXILE

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71He casts about in the dark, almost every day, for the intricate and elusive causes and consequences of his perpetual State of exile but on days when his work loses its glow for him and his working faith its fierceness of desperation, his casting about in the dark for the intricate causes and consequences of his exile becomes all the more frenzied, all the more obsessive.

2

72The dread of drying up and the stings of self-doubt torture him far more frequently and intensely than they do his unexiled confreres; in order to escape this torture too he often interrupts his bouts with the blank page or the empty canvas or the mute instrument or the intractable mud or marble or metal and starts casting about in the dark for the causes and consequences of his exile. He does this without any hope of either uncovering ail those causes and consequences or of ever acquiring the ability to communicate them, in all their dire complexities, either to himself or anyone else.

3

73He keeps telling himself that an objective investigation of those causes and consequences will be undertaken, if at all, by other intellectual hounds after he is no more, but these rueful reminders add to his determination to destroy, before his death, all the inadequate results of his own obsessive investigations, specially those which he has not been able to consume in his work, so that those other hounds, after he is no more, may have the advantage of a clean chase. He cannot help fearing, however, that this advantage will free those hounds and their conjectures from the constraints of fact and truth. And so he finds himself howling once again on the horns of another damned dilemma.

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74The time and torment he devotes to this futile investigation, he keeps assuring himself, are not entirely wasted because, if nothing else, they do provide him with a pretext for a persistent confrontation with his phantasmal past and his abysmal interior depths, which, he imagines, are the sacred founts of his work, such as it is, of the vitality of his work, such as it is. But if this is true, he asks himself, why should he have to depend on any pretext, why shouldn’t he be able to turn to those sacred founts again and again without any aid from any futile investigation. And once again he finds himself holding his breath on the horns of yet another damned dilemma.

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75He is haunted by another dilemma, no less damned, that has to do with his suspicion that even if he decides, and is able, to reveal the results of his investigation, others will either misunderstand or disbelieve him. He doesn’t have a scourge strong enough to beat this suspicion away for it battens itself on sustenance drawn from his own inexhaustible reservoir of insecurity and guilt. He does not want to seal off the source of that sustenance, that reservoir, because that is also partially the source of his work, such as it is, of its vitality, such as it is.

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76His guilt may or may not be without a cause but he believes it to be beyond cure; his insecurity may or may not be beyond cure but be believes it is not without a cause. The grip of his guilt cannot be reduced or removed, he knows, by any kind or degree of self-castigation or self-pity or self-communion. The furnace of his insecurity cannot be tamed or extinguished, except temporarily, by any kind or degree of self-assurance or self-praise or self-delusion.

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77He regards this grip and this furnace as essential for keeping alive his intransigence which, in turn, he considers essential for his survival. Intransigence here means his mulish détermination to continue to burn unto the last in exile without blemishing his work with any conscious compromise: survival here means his existential as well as essential survival.

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78As his exile matures, his intransigence increases; so does his anxiety that neither he nor anyone else will ever fully uncover all the intricate and elusive causes and consequences of his exile or appreciate the intensity of his anguish. He is also constantly plagued by the thought that the subtlety and seriousness of his work will remain beyond the beat of his peers who are not in exile. Sometimes he succeeds in milking from this thought a watery conviction about the uniqueness of his work. But somewhere in the inner depths of his desolation he remains convinced that uniqueness is of no ultimate consequence. Despite all this, however, as his exile matures, his vigilance over his work, over his will to work, grows grimmer; so does his resolution not to be distracted from his labours by fears about their barrenness or hopes about their fruitfulness. And when his intransigence and his vigilance do not bring him any peace, he tries to accept his perpetual peacelessness as a blessing, dubious as well as disguised, bestowed upon him by his obsessive preoccupation with the causes and consequences of his exile.

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79Sometimes somewhere in his long silences he suspects that his obsession with the causes and consequences of his exile may be nothing more or less than an inevitable outcome of his excessive solipsism, that in order to keep clinging to his myth of his own and his work’s uniqueness, he not only thinks that nobody understands him and his work but also wants that nobody should so that he can don the martyr’s robes. At the same time, as if all these tortuous twists and turns were not enough to destroy his self-respect, another possibility crouches in his mind, like a light-sleeping lion, the possibility that everybody understands the so-called anguish of his exile, that everybody recognizes the so-called subtlety and seriousness of his work, that everybody knows those so-called intricate causes and elusive consequences.

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80The first and the final phases of his exile are ordinarily far more fearful than the long intervening stretch – the first because he has not yet fully accepted exile as his destiny, also because he has not yet learnt to labour on alien grounds or to drown hid dread in orgies of work, or worry about it; the final because his sense of futility becomes more unbearable with his approaching end, also because his doubts about the worth of his work become more redoubtable, and also because he is often brought to the brink of utter breakdown by the thought that he might have wasted his life by his alienation from his milieu and tradition. He tries to crush these doubts and fears under heavy rationalizations but they keep slithering out like so many snakes and stinging his eyes and conscience. The twilight of the artist in exile is always terrible. No accomplishment is lofty enough to compensate for this terror, no reward rich enough to dispel this twilight. The end of the artist in exile is always awesome.

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81During the long and dreary stretch between the first and the final phase of his exile he resorts to various ploys other than work and worry in order to preserve the purity of his pain and a semblance of his work-a-day sanity. For instance, he haunts the local libraries for the latest scrap of information about his country; he prowls around the post office for his mail; he writes long lacerating letters to his old friends and acquaintances even though every letter from home seems empty to him and every news incomplete. Because of this insatiable hunger and this weary waiting, he appears to be inconsolably bereaved, all the time, particularly around his eyes and lips. During the long and dreary stretch between the first and the final phase of his exile, he keeps his yearning alive by an endless waiting for an end to his endless waiting.

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82Whenever he thinks he is about to reach the limit of his endurance, he tries to revive himself by invoking the memory of those exemplary exiles who remained unbroken by abuse or neglect and unsoftened by praise or prizes. Around every such exemplar, however, he sees strewn the dry remains of scores of unknown others. This vision of rags and bones sometimes adds to his despair and sometimes diminishes it. His ultimate ambition, of course, is to reach a point in his night where he will not have to augment himself by an example or frighten himself by any vision of rags and bones.

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83As his exile matures, he turns his face away from the world of ordinary fears in an effort to attain a total indifference to his environment and achieve the invisibility of an incognito existence and the imperviousness of a sleepwalker in search of a rare needle in a commonplace haystack. In this way, if he is lucky, a stage is ultimately reached when he is isolated from others by the silence that surrounds him like an invisible tent. Few people dare to lift the flap of his tent in order to caress or curse him, everybody but his family, if he has any family left by then, is reduced to staring stealthily at him in his invisible tent. Sometimes he is assailed by an impulse to destroy that tent; sometimes he is pleased by the privacy it gives him for his pensum. As his exile matures, his isolation increases and the distance between him and the edge of the abyss decreases.

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84His homeland dominates his work and his nightmares throughout his exile. While he naturally shuns parochial patriotism, at the slightest insinuation about his having abandoned and betrayed his country, he turns like a wounded worm before making yet another effort to distil all his ambivalences about his country into one final statement that would scorch all insinuations. He knows, however, that no statement will be final enough to comprehend all his ambivalences or to assuage all his guilt. Thus, as his exile matures, his country and milieu and tradition are also transformed into a composite phantom, like his personal past, that keeps flashing across his work in all its glorious gloom.

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85If ever, in some feeble moment, he flees from his awesome isolation back to his old country, his first impulse is to fly back to his tent of silence, for he finds it difficult to fathom the strangeness of his old friends and haunts; he feels like a drunken stranger among mournful strangers or like a beggar at a vulgar banquet or like a hunchbacked preacher in a bleak bordello or like a looney sexton in a deserted graveyard. Reunion with old friends, he finds, is like a reunion with old ghosts. He feels as if he is unearthing old corpses and propping them up against crumbling walls so that he can bare and beat his breast before them, or so that he can be plied with penetrating questions about his exile, but all he gets from those corpses is dead skeletal stares. AH his old relationships remind him of dead snakes whose beauty and bite he tries to revive, in vain, by placing on their withered skins the live coals of his glances. After every impulsive return to his country he is convinced he cannot go home again; but the possibility of going home again keeps him clutch-ing at his mind like an ailing infant at his mother’s shriveled bosom. After every impulsive return to his old country when he returns, disappointed and tired, to the country of his exile, he feels a lot more lonely, a lot more lost.

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86Because of his increasing intimacy with phantoms, in his nightmares and his work, he himself finally becomes a phantom, a shade without a shadow, marvelously invisible, marvelously intangible, desirous of stopping every passerby in order to enquire who he is if he is.

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87Sometimes his faith in the power and presence of his work swells to proportions so pompous that he begins to question its very existence; sometimes his doubts about the power and presence of his work become so drastic that he feels like burning it all to cinders. In spite of this oscillation between faith and doubt, as his exile matures, his work becomes his only anchor, his only reason for continuing to crumble in exile.

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88He considers incessant experimentation as a condition both of his being and alienation. His surest single source of some stability is the hope that he may, after all, be coming close to breaking the bounds of his particular art form, that he may, after all, be coming close to creating a new notation for his nightmares, that he may, after all, be coming close to surpassing his precursors. At the same time, quite paradoxically, in his final phase, he is often seduced by the temptation, or the challenge, to create at least one final piece that should overwhelm everybody by its masterly simplicity.

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89Every artist in exile carries on his back a mountain-cloud of his personal and racial past; every artist in exile keeps looking backward as if he were being pursued by an invisible assassin; every artist in exile creates a new country and a new language out of the fragments and ruins and memories he has brought with him into his exile. But an artist who, for whatever reasons, finds himself exiled into a country and language that are radically different from his own is plagued by riddles and ordeals even more formidable than those that plague his other fellow exiles.

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90The question may be raised as to how he manages to do any work at all, ravaged if he is by all this misery: He turns to this question with a face that reminds one of a smiling fist.

EN GUISE DE CONCLUSION PAS DE RÉPONSE

91On n’en finit jamais avec la réalité. Pourquoi ? Hélas, c’est comme ça.

92La réalité, je la vois et je l’éprouve de façon fragmentaire. Les personnages de mes romans non plus n’échappent pas à cette tare visuelle. Le jour où je pourrai percevoir la réalité totale sera sans doute le jour où je serai délivré de l’enfer de l’écriture. Et de l’enfer de la vie. Les jivanmukt, les libérés vivants, c’est une autre affaire. Ils n’écrivent pas de romans. La volonté passionnée de voir la réalité totale et la frustration de ne pas y parvenir, voilà mon obsession fondamentale, le sujet essentiel de Bimal, de Dusra na koi. Mais, bien qu’on ne perçoive la réalité que de façon fragmentaire, on peut élaborer des techniques romanesques capables de la faire apparaître comme un tout indivis. C’est justement pour cette raison que la plupart des romans ne me satisfont pas ; c’est aussi pour cette raison que les romans accèdent en général à la popularité. Ils construisent le fragment de réalité avec une rigidité qui lui confère une apparence d’indivision, d’infrangibilité. Cela fait déjà plus de cinquante ans que Virginia Woolf a annoncé, en décembre 1912, que quelque chose avait changé dans l’humanité et sa représentation. Mais nous n’avons toujours pas entendu. Tout romancier vigilant se doit de faire passer ce message saisissant – pas seulement pour en faire profiter les autres, mais pour sa propre gouverne aussi. Je l’ai en ce qui me concerne entendu pour la première fois, ce message, en écrivant Uska Bachpan – pas de la bouche de Virginia Woolf, de la mienne. Je parle d’août 1947, pas de décembre 1912, parce que c’est à ce moment là que j’ai pris conscience de la transformation de l’humanité. C’est dans Uska Bachpan que j’ai pour la première fois restitué la fragmentation de la réalité dans une structure fragmentaire. Style et contenu ne peuvent apparaître dans leur unité que dans l’écriture, pas avant, cette unité ne précède pas l’écriture. Je veux dire que la forme ne court pas après le fond, que le fond ne préexiste pas à la forme, que sans elle le contenu n’a aucune authenticité, qu’il n’existe tout simplement pas. [pp. 48-49]

93Je ne veux pas faire de l’autobiographie avec les expériences de mon enfance, mais la source est là. Après l’enfance il y a eu la jeunesse et l’impact énorme de la partition. Je me suis mis à écrire pour l’exorciser, d’abord écrire Uska Bachpan pour exorciser les fantômes de mon enfance, et vingt-cinq ans se sont écoulés avant que je puisse écrire l’expérience de la Partition. Et puis, vivre à l’étranger, cela a été une nouvelle expérience du déracinement, et j’ai découvert que le déracinement était devenu pour moi matriciel. Si je suis rentré en Inde en laissant [aux États-Unis] mes trois enfants, la raison en est que je n’ai nulle part de maison. Pas de racines, on peut appeler cela aliénation. On dit souvent que l’aliénation est un concept occidental, mais moi je vous dis que Bouddha avait la conscience même de l’aliéné, lui qui n’a trouvé l’illumination qu’en se fondant sur l’expérience de l’aliénation. Il y a beaucoup de choses en commun dans toutes les traditions. La séparation radicale qu’on se plaît à faire entre les conceptions occidentales et indiennes est à plusieurs titres erronée. Je n’ai pas essayé de formaliser ce sentiment de déracinement comme valeur en soi. Que j’y aie réussi ou non, j ’ai voulu le peindre dans toute sa complexité, dans toutes ses contradictions, dans son ambivalence. L’homme bien enraciné ne souffre pas de l’ennui, et, de même que le sentiment de déracinement n’a rien de particulièrement occidental, l’ennui n’est pas une spécialité de l’Occident. Bien que le mot soit français, et qu’on ne l’emploie pas ici, la tradition indienne n’en a pas moins un autre mot bien à elle, virakti, qui n’est qu’une forme particulière de l’ennui, ub. Le détachement, vairagya, n’est-il pas la forme indienne de l’ennui ? Le retrait du monde (anasakti) n’est que le rêve de mettre à son comble l’ennui. Si j’intellectualisais ou si je romantisais la représentation de l’ennui, vous pourriez m’accuser d’en faire une ascèse, une valeur. Peut-être que je le prends comme une valeur ajoutée, mais certainement pas comme une valeur en soi. Pour moi, ce qu’on appelle rasa, c’est la réflexion, la pensée (manthan). Je ne suis pas un adorateur de l’ennui, je le décris pour le penser, sans entretenir l’espoir de m’en débarrasser, et sans avoir l’intention de dénigrer ceux qui n’arrivent pas à s’en débarrasser ! Description et réflexion, on trouve ce processus dans toutes mes œuvres. Mais je ne suis pas pour la délectation morose.

94Quant à l’ironie, c’est pour les gens tordus dans mon genre une façon de supporter la douleur, de rester en vie, mais dans mon œuvre ce n’est pas de l’autodéfense, ni une fuite, c’est aussi et surtout un mode cognitif. Kierkegaard a écrit là-dessus tout un livre. Ce qui va à l’encontre du « soit l’un soit l’autre », on peut philosopher là-dessus, que ce soit Kierkegaard ou Nietzsche ou Bouddha. Je suis persuadé que si Bouddha n’avait pas reçu l’illumination, il aurait été le plus grand ironiste de tous les temps. L’ironie est dans mon tempérament, j’y trouve ma force à ma manière, [pp. 66-69]

95J’ai voulu délinéariser le genre romanesque, j’ai voulu y introduire les formes des arts visuels, introduire la musicalité, qui prime dans Lila, comme dans « Les Ombres du Père », sur l’aspect narratif. Dans Son enfance, il y avait de la théâtralité, beaucoup de dialogues, et du silence, l’œuvre a son propre silence. Dans Une douleur sans remède, et dans Il n’en est point d’autre, c’est surtout la musique que j’ai cherché à rendre, les mots qui reviennent encore et encore, et se défont, cela produit l’effet d’un raga. Pour la peinture, la couleur et la composition picturale, c’est peut-être dans Collage en noir que je m’en suis le plus servi. [p. 72]

Notes

1 Choix de textes et présentation par Annie Montaut.

2 The novel was written twice, the definite version several years after the first draft because the author felt more and more uncomfortable with a realistic style (Javāb nahī, 2002: 60).

3 Respectively ‘brothers’ and ‘enemies’.

4 Bhalla says later: “One of the finer qualifies of Guzra Hua Zamana is the way in which it successfully evades sentimentality through humour. It’s strange to read through a Partition novel which forces one to chuckle most of it. That’s again a sign of unsentimental vision.” Answers Vaid: “I hope that pain still cornes through.”

5 “Humanity has not yet died.”

Auteur

Né dans le Panjab aujourd’hui pakistanais, K.B.V est un écrivain atypique : mystique agnostique, il élabore un style expérimental dans un hindi aussi marqué par le persan et l’arabe que par le sanskrit. Titulaire d’un doctorat (Harvard) sur Henry James, il a enseigné dans différentes universités en Inde et aux États-Unis, puis s’est consacré exclusivement à l’écriture. Krishna Baldev Vaid a publié plus de trente ouvrages, notamment sur la partition hindo-pakistanaise : romans, théâtre, nouvelles, traductions (Racine, Beckett, Lewis Carroll).
Publications
– 1970 Steps in Darkness, Delhi, Hind Pocket Books (« Orient Paperbacks »).
– 2002 Histoires de renaissances, traduit du hindi par A. Montaut, Paris, Langues et Mondes / L’Asiathèque.
– 2002 La Splendeur de Maya, traduit du hindi par A. Montaut, Paris, Caractères.

© Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2004

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