Partition's people stitched
Shrouds from a flag, gentlemen scissored Sind.
An opened people, fraying across the cut
country reknotted themselves on this island.
Surrogate city of banks,
Brokering and bays, refugees' harbour and port,
Gatherer of ends whose brick beginnings work
Loose like a skin, spotting the coast,
Restore us to fire. New refugees,
Wearing blood-red wool in the worst heat,
come from Tibet, scanning the sea from the north,
Dazed, holes in their cracked feet.
Restore us to fire. Still,
Communities tear and re-form; and still, a breeze,
Cooling our garrulous evenings, investigates nothing,
Ruffles no tempers, uncovers no root,
And settles no one adrift of the mainland's histories.
Sea Breeze, Bombay is a Partition story as well as a history of Bombay written down by Adil Jussawalla who after his schooling in Bombay did his college education from London and Oxford and taught for some time in England and in the mega city just before devoting himself fully to journalism, literary tidbits, columns, reviews and had been also the Literary Editor as well as the Editor of Debonair magazine.
Adil Jussawalla who hails from a Parsi community is first of all a poet writing the poetry of the modern age and of modern man.
A poet of broken statements, his is an angst, bewilderment and loss expressed through the columns of poetry where it is difficult to search for meaning and his persona is but a city-man, one of the urban space and living. Despair, dislocation, displacement, globalism, cosmopolitanism, modernity and post-modernism are some of the ingredients which he comes to grapple with. The Partition people telling the stitched tales tells of pity and pathos is the thing of narration which the politicians could not feel it then drunken with power. Who to say how has this Partition cost precious human lives of which we had been a mute spectator, witness of all that happened in the name of partition, religion and politics! How inhuman can be man! The Partition is an example of all that. None is holy from his within. All but know it.
Tracing the history of Bombay, he goes back to the Partition tales and woes, trauma and therapy which it disrupted the sub-continent, ruffled as a whirlwind, a cyclone uprooting the people from their roots of nativity, culture and ethos, snapping connectivity and access from Rawalpindi, Lahore, Peshawar to India and vice versa. Many perished on the way tired of fatigue, hunger, thirst and illnesses the caravans of refugees rendered homeless and while on the other hand violence, bloodshed, genocide, stampede, rape and brutality wreaked havoc in the name of the Partition cutting across the religious lines.
Why was such a Partition done in a huff? What did it give to? Just for the chair? So, in its trail, bearing the brunt of, an exodus of the Sindhis, the Sindh area people came in migrating to Bombay and got domiciled, undergoing a saga of trouble, tribulation and trauma. But time is the best healer as one forgets it all in the course of time. It was but the island which but gave shelter and refuge to the migrating people from the so-called, newly created and named Pakistan. Again, in due course of time the refugees forget the wounds and scars of the Partition and try to re-knot themselves pacing with time, age and situation of life, marking the hectic brisk activity of the land.
A city of banks, harbours and ports, Bombay has a history and narrative of its own. It is the same coast, where the British and other European merchants and mariners came and sojourned for their trade and commerce and competed with for power. They also did their best in developing the island area as it was internally cut in and separated from, but through the landfill the area was flattened and linked with, bridging the edgeways, sideways. The Bombay of today is not the same as it was before the advent of the Europeans and the British. But the people of East Punjab and East Bengal suffered it most from the torture point of view.
Keeping the Holy Fire as a witness, the poet seeks for expiation and penance from the sins committed unknowingly by himself or on behalf of those referred to here and praying to restore and purge it, he begins the talk of the Tibetan refugees and their influx and they coming to settle in and make room for. Even during the hot weather, they can be seen wearing the red woolen dress because of varied geographical locations and migratory haste, dislocation, displacement, wandering relocation and resettlement. With the change in geographical locations, the things and the status change it from place to place. So, the case is with the Tibetan refugees unable to guess the mood and go of the place, the climate and location of it.
As a traveller, can man adjust with shifting images and change in locality? Stability comes with the home. But unaware of all that, the sea breeze keeps refreshing and blowing over, settling or unsettling it all, taking to its own recourse. The sea breeze comes and goes away towards the mainland. So are the waves rising and falling picturesque of Nature as thus lost in the play and frivolity of its own.
The fire knows it all. What to say about keeping it as a witness, swearing by? Sometimes the communities lose their temper and get involved in quarrels and clashes. Sometimes some disruptive activities seem to break the bond of affection, but again it swings back to its beat and pulse. Things get restored back to with the somber poise and a calm of mutual understanding is reached for to start it again the brisk activity. The commercial centre comes to a stop, never seems to be at rest. Ships sailing on the seas, coming from, cargoes unloaded, loaded, these are but the general pictures of Bombay, the sea view.
A small poem it is so much of geographical, historical, economic, ship manly and developmental interest as because to read it is to discuss it differently. How was Bombay initially? Who were the original inhabitants? How did the merchants and the navy men come to, we mean the foreigners? How was the coast earlier? How did it develop? How much time did it take in? How was the land filled as for reclamation? To discuss Bombay is to see the topographical map. Now it is a commercial hub too. How the maritime history and activity of it? It is really a matter of intensive research connected with several kingdoms and shipping corporations.
A mariner, a navigator or a shipman’s notes will help us more.
The ancient boatmen and the fishers used to inhabit the seven islands as it was a litter of isles and islets.
Apart from the history of Bombay, the poem is a history of the refugee problem and the maniac, fanatical division of the sub-continent and the achievement of freedom in the midst of turbulence and tribulation, stampede and refugee influx. If we can the photos of that time, we may come to feel it. How had it been the vision of the dividers? Divisions cannot be done at the cost of innocent lives who could not see the flowers of freedom. The history of Sindh and the Sindhis too comes under that. Did the Punjabis and the Bengalis not face the brunt? The same has happened with East Punjab and East Bengal. If we hear the stories, tears will trickle down the face. We shall not be able to hear the stories of the betrayed people. How were the simple folks driven out of their homes? The present plight of the Kashmiri pundits also tells the same living in camps in Delhi or rehabilitated. What more to say about the Parsis which the poet says it not? Are the Mohajirs well there in Pakistan? When he talks of the Tibetan refugees, several things come upon the mind’s place, Indo-Tibet, Indo-Chinese relations. How did they come to? Have they been given citizenship rights? Who to look after their problems? Sometimes we feel it about why the people turn into refugees, why the people are driven out of their places. Still now the conditions of the minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh are not so well. When he puts the fire as a witness, the mere spell of it takes to the land of Zoroaster and the Zoroastrians, how they were driven out, how their fire temples were, how the fire has been kept burning still now.
Whose houses who partitioned? Whose lands who divided? It is also a matter of fact. Sea Breeze, Bombay is a poem of Bombay, its shipyards, docks, naval bases; its business centres and commercial hubs; its sea routes and maritime activities. But side by side it is a painful tale of the Partition people raked by loss, casualty, murder, disease, death, suffering, loot, plunder, journey and fatigue. How did the stitched flags serve as the shrouds for them? Whose liberty who used it? Whose freedom who commemorated it? The reference indicates the murder and killing of the innocent people in the wake of nationalistic fever and frenzy and maniac religious fervour. So, with a bloody foundation the history of our freedom started with and we made a tryst with it opening new vistas and avenues. The scissoring of Sindh created reshuffles, repercussions, and upheavals. The history of Bombay none has tried to know it, feel it, how was it Bombay one day, what has it become now. Is this the attainment of freedom? As thus we got independence from is but a hidden truth and what more to allude to? Let the breeze blow it with the influx of the refugees to come to in search of opportunities, peace, happiness and settlement from time to time as but this is the process of history. It all depends on one’s sense of humanism and goodness while grappling with the humanitarian issues like this.