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Independence Day

Translator’s note: Unlike many other South Asian intellectuals, Saadat Hasan Manto presciently saw the perils of postcolonial Pakistan & India following a bloody partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Despite his premature death in 1955, three years before Pakistan’s first military coup, his essays on the realities of the postcolonial state in Pakistan brilliantly capture the opportunism and later nuclearized nationalism in the country. On the occasion of Pakistan’s and India’s 66th independence anniversaries, respectively on August 14 and 15, and in the context of the recent clashes between the two countries in occupied Kashmir, I offer CounterPunch readers this first-time, original English translation of Manto’s acerbic observations on the rituals of ‘independence’ in both countries, written in 1951 or 1952, which were soon to develop into an incurable pathology. (-Raza Naeem)

When India was partitioned, I was in Bombay. I heard the Quaid-e-Azam’s (Jinnah) and Pandit Nehru’s speeches, following which when the partition took place, I also saw the rioting which occurred in Bombay. Prior to this, I had been reading news of Hind-Muslim clashes daily in newspapers. Sometimes five Hindus were killed, sometimes five Muslims, however on average the balance of bloodshed remained even.

In this vein, do hear the joke; the hawker used to throw in Times of India through the kitchen window every morning. One day – (and it was a day of communal clashes) the hawker came and knocked on the door. I was very surprised, went outside and found out it was a new hawker, I asked him, “Where is the hawker who usually comes to deliver?”

He replied, “Sir, he has died. Yesterday he was stabbed in Kamaipur, but before he died, he had asked me to deliver the paper to so and so client and to receive the payment.” How my heart upon hearing this I am unable to narrate.

On the second day after this, I saw the corpse of a Hindu ice-seller near the petrol pump on Clare Road adjacent to my house. His pushcart was parked near his corpse and water was dripping from the ice slabs. Blood had congealed directly over blood and it seemed like a glacier of ‘jelly’ lying there. Those were strange days, there were riots everywhere and two countries had yet to be born from their womb; independent India and independent Pakistan. There was chaos. Several well-off Muslims were flying away to Karachi via airplanes, so that they could witness the festivities of the newborn Islamic state, and thousands remained (in India), out of fear lest some calamity befall them.

The 14th of August arrived and Bombay, which already had been known as the ‘Bride of Countries’, was dressed up like a newlywed bride. There was a flood of lights which had washed away in Bombay city the night of 14th August, lights of every hue. I think this city has never expended so much electricity in its life.

BEST (Bombay Electric Supply and Tramway Company) had a tramcar decorated around all corners with electric lamps specially for the occasion, in a way that they had become the tricolours of the Congress Party. It roamed the city all night.

The tallest buildings were also decorated with lights. The English shops had made special arrangements, those at Whiteways and Ivan Freezers were worth watching.

Now listen to something of Bhindi (Okra) Bazaar. This is Bombay’s famous bazaar which in Bombay lingo is the Mian Brothers’ or Muslim area, it has lots of hotels and restaurants. One is named ‘Bismillah’ (prayer invoking God’s name before initiating something), another Subhanallah (prayer praising God), the entire Koran has finished in this bazaar, however there is no restaurant or hotel here named ‘Auzubillah’ (prayer invoking God’s protection from Satan).

This bazaar was the Pakistan of Bombay. The Hindus were celebrating the happiness of the independence of their India and Muslims of their independent Pakistan, and I was amazed at what was happening? In Bhindi Bazaar where were were Hindu shops, the tricolor was waving over them, and in the rest wherever you saw there were the Islamic flags of the Muslim League.

I went to Bhindi Bazaar in the morning, I saw a strange sight; the whole bazaar was littered with green flags. Outside a restaurant, there was a painting of Jinnah which had probably been made by an unskilled artist, hanging in gay colours and two electric fans were turned towards it.

However, I can never forget the scene, the Muslims were very happy that they had gotten Pakistan. Where is Pakistan? What is it? They absolutely didn’t know, they were just happy because they had an occasion of happiness after a long time.

In the Rampuri Brothers’ restaurants, several cups of tea were being drunk as well as Passing Show cigarettes, and were celebrating the creation of Pakistan. Special Kala Kandi and areca nut paans (betel leaf) were being brought in by the scores, as well the slaked lime on the fingers of those outside.

I was amazed at what was happening but the most surprising thing was that there was no bloodshed on August 14. People were busy in obtaining independence, what was this independence, how was it attained and what will be the change in their lives being independent, no one was thinking about it.

On one side, boomed slogans of ‘Long Live Pakistan’, on the other side of ‘Long Live India’. Now listen to some jokes about Pakistan which is our infant Islamic republic. Last year on Independence Day, a man was trying to cut a dried tree to take it home. I said to him, “What are you doing, you have no right to cut this tree.” He pronounced, “This is Pakistan, this loot is my property.” I remained silent.

Our locality, in the days before partition, was a very beautiful place. Now the situation is that the round place where there used to be platforms of grass, is completely deserted. There naked children keep abusing each other day and night and playing weird games. Once my daughter’s big ball disappeared. I thought it must be somewhere in the house. But on the fourth day, I saw a few kids playing with it, when I inquired from them they said, “This is ours, we bought it for one rupee and four annas.” The joke is that the ball’s price was four rupees and fifteen annas.

There can’t be a fight in Pakistan, so I abstained from it and let my daughter’s ball be in their possession, as this was their right.

I want to recount another thing about this place. A man was pulling out bricks from the floor outside. I said to him, “Brother, don’t do this. This is very unfair.” He pronounced, “This is Pakistan, who are you to stop me.” I remained silent.

I gave my radio for repair to radio-repair guy, my memory is weak, so I forgot that I had to go to him; I remembered after a month. When I went to him, he said, “You didn’t come for so long, I sold your radio set and charged my fee.”

Two years ago, a day before Independence Day, I got a notice that I am an unwanted person, asking me to give a reason why I shouldn’t be divested of the house I had been allotted. If I am an unwanted person, the government also has the right to declare me a plague rat, seize me and exterminate me, but so far I am safe.

Finally, I want to recount a great joke. Directly after the birth of Pakistan, when I arrived in Karachi, there was chaos there. I wished to leave for Lahore immediately. So I went to the railway station and said to the booking clerk that I needed a first-class ticket ticket to Lahore. He replied, “You cannot get this ticket, because all the seats are booked.” I was habituated to Bombay’s environment, where everything could be had at the black market. I told him, “Well, you can take a few bucks extra.” He replied in a very serious and reprimanding tone, “This is Pakistan. I have been doing before what you have asked me to do, but I cannot do it now. All the seats are booked. You will never get a ticked at any price.”

And I didn’t get a ticket at any price.

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, literary critic, translator and political activist (of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party). He has been trained in Political Economy from the University of Leeds in UK, and in Middle Eastern History and Anthropology from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, USA. He is presently working on two books, namely, on the crisis of bourgeois democracy in Pakistan, as well as translating Saadat Hasan Manto’s ‘Letters to Uncle Sam’ and other postcolonial essays from the Urdu. His published articles on Manto, and selected translations from Manto, have already been translated into Tamil. He has recently been awarded the British Council Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship 2013-14 to continue his work on Manto’s essays in the UK. He can be reached at: razanaeem@hotmail.com

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