A writer, editor, translator, and activist, Rakshanda Jalil has provided yeomen’s service to the cause of Urdu language and literature. On the occasion of the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, she has put together a volume highlighting India’s creative response to the abominable action against humanity. Trisha De Niyogi talked to her about the motivation and efficacy of this project.
Words Vs Guns…
What are the memories of belonging? Is it important and instructive to remember holocausts like the partition and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre?
Yes, it is very important to revisit times of great pain and suffering, and go back to old memories that have caused immense anguish. Would we do what was done at great human cost yet again? Did the pain, suffering, and sacrifice go to waste? Surely, it ought not to.
The intersection of history and literature allows us to revisit occasions of great historical import. In the past, I have looked at the literature that came out of the First War of Independence of 1857, the Indian participation in the First World War (1914-1918) and the literary responses to it, and the Partition of 1947. Each time, my attempt has been to evaluate how contemporary and later writers looked at these real-life incidents through the prism of literature. This volume is a continuation of that attempt.
You have done a wonderful job of compiling material written on Jallianwala Bagh massacre, both fiction and non-fiction written in various languages. In terms of literary values, how would you evaluate them?
Let me infer to poetry to answer your question about ‘literary values’. Once, poetry was considered the most suitable form for passing down history. Some of our greatest epics came to us in verse. There was a long lull when poetry was thought to be about the softer emotions of life. It took events of great magnitude, for instance, the Jallianwala Bagh incident, to release a burst of political consciousness. Poets writing in different bhashas felt no longer content to sing of the rose and the nightingale. This ‘adventurism’ required a new diction. For these ‘new age’ poets, language became a means, not an end to a creative exercise. Realism crept into the poetry of even those who shied away from labels, or chose not to belong to any school of thought. The poetry included in this book reflects those times and those literary values.
Sometimes some of our centenaries turn out to be celebrations irrespective of the fact that they are solemn moments for expiation and penance. How would you advice the governments to commemorate this painful event?
My friend Ramu Gandhi, the philospher, always used to say in the context of Partition that ownership is very important. Someone has to speak up and take responsibility. Until a collective pind daan takes place, the ghosts of Partition will continue to haunt us. I want to say the same about Jallianwala Bagh… Until full ownership of this terrible tragedy is taken, we will not find closure.