R&D Partition Play

Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nuu,

Kiton Qabraan Wichon Bol,

Tey Ajj Kitaab-e-Ishq Daa,

Koi Agla Warka Phol

Today, I call Waris Shah,

Speak from inside your grave

and turn, today,

the book of love’s next affectionate page

Ikk Royi Sii Dhi Punjab Di,

Tu Likh Likh Maarey Wain,

Ajj Lakhaan Dhiyan Rondiyan,

Tenu Waris Shah Nuu Kain

Once, one daughter of Panjab cried

you wrote a wailing saga

today, a million daughters,

cry to you, Waris Shah

-Amrita Pritam

Amrita Pritam pens down the feeling of Partition in Aaj Akhan Waris Shah Nu and how it made thousands feel. Whenever I think of partition my mind wanders off on a journey with Aaaj Akhan Waris Shah Nu in the background. I think of the countless journeys that were taken and those travellers that never made it to their destination. 

In February I spoke with my colleague Raveeta Banger whom I previously worked with on Jugni, the female firefly, a play commissioned by Slanguages. We had conversations about how this year (2022) is marking 75 years of the partition of India and we thought about how it would be interesting to explore the partition of India through the lens of British Indians and how Partition still impacts us years later. We came to the idea of collaboratively writing a one-woman play exploring the journey of partition, looking at its intergenerational understanding and trauma. 

For me, 15th August always leaves me with mixed feelings. After years of colonisation India became independent but with the cost of Partition, human lives, and innocent lives. Thousands and thousands of people overnight had a new identity and many were stuck on the wrong side of the border and had to make the horrific journey of passing a new border into a new nation so many did not make it alive. 

Moving forward, what can we do?- look at the past as a reminder for it never to happen again. But remember our shared identity that will always be present through our culture, food, clothes, poetry, and music – which transcends man-made borders as once the two countries were one – including Bangladesh which was part of Pakistan till 1971. 

Throughout our research, in April and May, we read various books, watched various films, and most importantly had conversations with those in our family who are survivors of the partition. Oral histories shifted the experiences of partition to women and one of the first writers to do so was Urvashi Butalia. Throughout our research what was lacking thoroughly was how caste affected migration and gendered violence. We also found a focus on middle-class Panjabi partition stories. 

The themes in my writing and performance work explore language and history. With this play, I wanted to co-write a new piece with a fresh perspective and outlook. Reflecting on one of the first novels on partition written by Amrita Pritam. Pinjar narrates the gendered experience of the trauma and sufferings of partition. It focuses on violence against women during and after the partition of India in 1947. It portrays the plight of women, their struggle and sufferings due to the perpetrators of violence either, in the name of culture, religion, or societal norm. 

Through our writing, we wanted to question what freedom meant, what freedom meant to our grandparent’s generation with a focus on women. Then look at what freedom means to us living in the diaspora and how these worlds are connected. We realised that there is something we will always hold onto from our ancestors. The poem below was written in response to our research and my thoughts around the Partition of India.

With our collated research I hope to continue to work on the partition in the near future whether that is in the form of a play, performance, or film. This research and development stage has laid the seeds for ideas and thoughts. While our collaborative project did not fulfil the way we both intended, we both learned a lot on the way. I would like to convey my gratitude and thanks to Professor Rajinder Durah, Birmingham City University (BCU) and the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media, BCU for their very kind support in commissioning us in this phase of the research and development. 

bhave koi Hindu kudi hove, bhave muslman, jihri vi kudi vapas apne tikane puchdi pai ae, samjho ohde vich Puro di rooh tikane puchdi pai ae – 

whether one is a Hindu girl or a Muslim one, whoever reaches her destination, she carries along my soul.

-Pinjar, Amrita Pritam.