By Onaiza Drabu

Dawn : Aug 14, 2019

We bring you a selection of poems to commemorate the event by reliving the memories handed down to us in verse.

Description: Migrants crossing into Pakistan during Partition | F E Chaudhry, White Star Photo Archives
Migrants crossing into Pakistan during Partition | F E Chaudhry, White Star Photo Archives

The Partition was a singularly traumatic experience in the subcontinent, both politically and emotionally, for people of all faiths and social standing.

From poets to politicians, great thinkers on both sides of the border have dwelled on the anxiety of separation and starting a new life amidst a landscape of violence, loss and nostalgia.

On the 72nd anniversary of the Partition, we bring you a selection of poems to commemorate the event by reliving the memories handed down to us in verse.

Laments and memoirs were written in many tongues, but the selection here is from regions most affected by the split in 1947 and the separation since. This is to offer many vantage points to the same event and to understand the nuances of the story as it unfolded for different lives.


Possibly the most popular poem associated with the dismay of Partition was written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. His explosive first line rings loud every time we think of the much-awaited morning of freedom.



ye daagh daagh ujala ye shab-gazida sahar

vo intizar tha jis ka ye vo sahar to nahin


This stained, pitted first-light

this day-break, battered by night

this dawn that we all ached for

this is not that one

(Translation Mustansir Dalvi)


Two nations were rendered apart by bitterness and yet remained conjoined by memory and tradition. A cartographer’s whimsical division shaped millions of lives and identities, leaving traumatic legacies in its wake.

The infamous Cyril Radcliffe, who split an unfamiliar territory "having never set eyes on this land he was called to partition", is often held responsible. One of the best criticisms of him and his disastrous move is by the poet WH Auden. It is both amusing and horrifying to think how one Englishman’s bowels are to be blamed for the mass displacement and devastation.



Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day

Patrolling the gardens to keep assassins away,

He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate

Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date

And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,

But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect

Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,

And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,

But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,

A continent for better or worse divided.


We often imagine that these carelessly drawn lines had the most severe consequences in the north, particularly in Punjab. However, there were equal ripples felt in the east as well. A simple Bengali rhyme by Annada Shankar Ray questions the logic of Partition and mocks the "man-children" who engineered it.

Ray sketches a vivid imagery of what life in 1940s Bengal was like, and lists the various people and institutions that would be ripped apart due to this vicious act of Partition. It is interesting to note that this rhyme is often taught to children early on, perhaps easing their introduction into the world of adult politics — seemingly foolish from the outside.


Khoka O Khuku

teler shishi bhanglo bole

khukur pore raag koro

tomra je shob buro khoka

bharot bhenge bhaag koro

taar bela tar bela taar bela


When the little child breaks the vial of oil,

She incurs your wrath as if it were an act of despoil…

What about the many ways in which

you petty man-children have broken up India, so verdant and rich

What about that?

(Translation Debasmita Boral)


The first rumours of Partition brought about a wave of denial and disbelief. Displacement from one’s home and identity is not an easy concept to accept and we find in Jibanananda Das’s poetry a natural form of coping: romanticisation of home and the desire to stay in the comfort zone of familiarity.


Tomra jekhane shaadh chole jao - aami ei Bangla'r paare roye jabo

Go where you will – I shall remain on Bengal’s shores

Shall see the jackfruit leaves dropping in the dawn’s breeze;

Shall see the brown wings of shalick chill in the evening,

Its yellow leg under the white down goes on dancing

In the grass, darkness — once, twice — and then suddenly

The forest’s oak beckons it to its heart’s side,

Shall see sad feminine hands — white conch-bangles

Crying like conch-shells in the ash-grey wind


The ground realities of Partition, however, were far more brutal than abstract notions of home. The stories of violence and cruelty is captured well in this Punjabi rhyme by Shiv Kumar Batalvi and evokes a visceral image of killing a mother and the death of childhood.


Dudh Da Qatl

Mainu te yaad hai ajj vi, te tenu yaad hove ga

Jadon dohaan ne dil ke apni maan da qatl kita si

Meri dudh di umar maan de qatl sang qatl ho gayi si

Te thande dudh di oh laash tere ghar hi soan gayi si

Te jis noon yaad karke aaj vi mein chup ho jandan

Tere hisse vich aaye ardh dhad vich roz kho jandan


I still remember it today, and you must remember it too

When, together, we murdered our mother.

My childhood was killed with the murder of my mother

And its cold corpse was left behind in your place.

Even now, I become quiet when I remember that

And lose myself in the thoughts of that half-a-body that was your share.

(Translation Suman Kashyap)


Another Punjabi poet, Amrita Pritam, immortalised Partition in her poetry. In Waris Shah, she evokes the Punjabi saint to put an end to this senseless violence. The pain and agony in her verse is evident — her own Punjab is soaked in the blood of innocent lives and she can only plead to make it stop. You can hear Pritam reciting the poem in her own voice here.


Waris Shah

Ajj aakhan Waris Shah nuu,

Kiton qabraan vichon bol,

Tey ajj kitaab-e-ishq daa,

Koi agla warka khol

Ikk royi sii dhi Punjab di,

Tu likh likh maarey wain,

Ajj lakhaan dhiyan rondiyan,

Tenu Waris Shah nuu kain

Uthh dard-mandaan diya dardiya,

Utth tak apna Punjab

Ajj bailey lashaan bichiyaan

Tey lahoo di bhari Chenab


Waris Shah I call out to you today to rise from your grave

Rise and open a new page of the immortal book of love

A daughter of Punjab had wept and you wrote many a dirge

A million daughters weep today and look at you for solace

Rise o beloved of the aggrieved, just look at your Punjab

Today corpses haunt the woods, Chenab overflows with blood


The imagery of blood lurks in almost all poems on Partition. It isn’t surprising because the same blood that bound us was mercilessly shed in those dark months. This evocative poem by Agyega is also one that makes us wonder about the depth of trauma inherited and remembered by generations to come.


Hamara Rakt

Yah idhar baha mere bhai ka rakt

Vah udhar raha utna hi laal

Tumhari ek behen ka rakht

Beh gaya mili dono dhaaraa

Ja kar mitti me huin ek

Par dhara na cheti mitti jaagi nahi

Na ankur uss me phoota

Yah dooshit daan nahi leti

Kyunki ghrina ke teekhay vish se aaj ho gaya hai

Ashakt nistej aur nirvirya hamara rakt


Shed here was my brother’s blood

It remained as red as

As your sister’s blood shed there

Swept away, both these bloodstreams met

And became one in the soil

But it could not awaken the soil

Neither did it sprout a bud

The soil does not accept a corrupted gift

Because tended by the bitter poison of hatred

Our blood has become infirm, languid and infertile


While most poets lamented the bloodshed, some celebrated this hard-won freedom from the coloniser. They espoused hope, encouraging the common man to enter this brave new world with courage and dignity.

However, they may have been too quick in their celebrations, unsure of what to do with this newfound liberty and how to deal with the new battles that ensued. This hope and despair come together in Kasmiri poet Mehjoor’s Azadee.


Katshan taamat dapaan vuchhahas sate laṭi toomla mwochhi baapath

Phootis kyath gara ȧny pootse tshaayi aaram baayi aazaadee

Gamuty damphaaṭy chhi saaree bekaraaree chhakh dilan andar

Dapaan vanahav panun ahvaal asi maa laayi aazaadee


Even in armpits seven times, they skin searched her for a handful of rice

In a basket under her rags, the market gardener’s wife snuck home freedom

They are all broken hopeless, inside their hearts is restlessness

They say if we dare speak, won’t we be punished by freedom?


At the end of it all, it was these artificially imposed boundaries, splitting rivers and mountains or friends and family, that we have continued to live with for over seven decades. Agha Shahid Ali relives this and asks the pertinent question: what is this strange "separation’s geography?"


By the Waters of Sind

So what is separation’s geography?

Everything is just that mystery,

everything is this roar that deafens:

this stream has branched off from the Indus,

in Little Tibet, just to

find itself where Porus

miles down (there it will join the Jhelum)

lost to the Greeks. It will become,

in Pakistan, the Indus again.


Are we not the same in the end — the same people who share traditions and languages? After his first visit to Pakistan, Indian poet Nida Fazli was struck by the idea that people’s suffering and its articulation was similar on both sides of the border. He thus composed the following lines:


Yahan Bhi Wahan Bhi

Insaan me haivaan yahan bhi hai wahan bhi

Allah nigehbaan yahan bhi hai wahan bhi

Khoonkhaar darindo ke faqat naam alag hain

Shehron mein bayabaan yahan bhi hain wahan bhi


The beast within the human is here, as well as there

Allah is the protector here, as well as there

Only the names of blood-thirsty monsters are different

Wastelands within cities exist here, as well as there