From the translator’s Introduction
… The Sixth River, first published in 1948, within a year of Partition, is a memoir that captures the author’s deeply felt and dearly held desire as a common man to not have to leave his beloved city, Lahore, that he held on to till November 1947, for about three months after the declaration of Lahore as belonging to Pakistan, the country created for the Muslims of India. These three months are a long time, when he is perhaps the only Hindu writer, if not professional, trying to go about his business to remain a part of the cultural, intellectual and professional life in Lahore, as rivers of blood and the fires of arson rage through it.
Ultimately, Fikr is forced to migrate as a refugee, entering the camp at Lahore, then making the journey across Wagah on a lorry alongside other refugees, to reach the camp in Amritsar. This testimony of life over these three months in Lahore, ending with his migration to Amritsar, from the vantage point of a member of the intelligentsia, which was quite powerless at this time, thus acquires quite a unique status.
Moreover, not only is it one of the very few texts in Urdu or any other language written in the form of a Partition diary by a non-political leader, it is possibly the only non-fiction text written about Partition in such strongly satirical prose. Where a Saadat Manto is hailed as the master of the Partition short story genre, Fikr’s The Sixth River predates all of Manto’s works on Partition. And it is Fikr who is retelling his own story and that of other literary, political and everyday figures – victims, perpetrators and beneficiaries – with equal, possibly greater, irony.
And it is Fikr’s style that further provides The Sixth River its harrowing potency. Fikr does not mince words, but crafts them with a surgical scalpel. Brevity is his forte, and in moments such as his own daughter’s murder by his childhood friend, he recreates the impact of such trauma by eschewing sentimentality completely, and wielding his pen sparingly to describe the macabre in its bare outline. He ends up comforting the killer of his own child, almost reinventing notions of grief, mourning and consolation. Such was the impact of Partition on many that it produced previously un-thought responses, perhaps ones that even fiction could not have imagined or captured, and he shows the fortitude to think through them with inordinate calm…
From The Sixth River
Attacks on the railcars have started again. The rebel and fugitive forces of the princely estates have still not returned to the captivity of their rajas and nawabs. Women and girls are still being abducted. The historical tradition of parading them is still being practiced. Gandhi’s screams have brought a calm and the force of Delhi’s rioting has lessened. And according to a leader, Gandhi is now threatening to come to Punjab to establish peace. And to preempt the danger of his arrival the intensity of attacks here has increased.
The Kashmir problem has reached its last stage today. One person was saying that the kingdom’s Dogra forces have created a furore. The other thought the tribal clans of the North-West had carried out quick- fire attacks and plunder. And the Raja of Kashmir has declared his acceptance of the accession to the Indian Union. And the politics of the world has been rattled. It is being said that the responsibility for the security of the Kashmiri people lies with the North-Western tribals. Someone says that the Indian Dominion will save the Kashmiri people. And the Kashmiri people are being ground between two millstones.
People – they have become indistinct dots. Aimless, whom no one sees. But whom everyone is claiming to see. The people are only being used to serve different aims and motives. What are the people? Only sheep! That powerful shepherds are shoving along their own paths. This wound of princely estates is the reminder of British imperialism. And to claim this wound, patients from both sides have attacked. And the puppeteers of London are watching the spectacle. And both sides are trapped in their strings. In the guise of slogans for the betterment of the people and by showing the magical vision of democracy, the farms and huts of hungry and naked Kashmiris are being burnt and destroyed. What is going on, Arif? Arif, my friend!
And Arif unites his voice with my soul’s to say that even if Kashmir should be a part of Pakistan for geographical reasons, is accession the sole and fundamental question? Is the primary question not of the two fronts fast emerging in the political landscape of the world? Kashmir occupies an important position among those two fronts. The partition of India was also a demand of those fronts.
Then...then...what will happen to the Kashmiri people? What about its chinars, its flowers, its springs, its cataracts and scenic views being prepared to be thrown in to the fires and storms of blood? Can they not be saved? Must the macabre dance of the puppeteer be played in this grand valley of beauty and romance? Arif, my friend, can you not cast a wider eye to look beyond? Come here. Look upon this vista, why are you stuck with India and Pakistan? Kashmir may join any dominion, the puppeteer’s show will still go on. And then? And then?
Clouds of uncertainty and doubt have rolled again in front of me. And my mind, covered in the dust of grief and despair, is contemplating suicide. And Mumtaz is telling me: “I deeply regret, Fikr bhai, that I got into that wrangle with you the other day. Actually, I shouldn’t have started that debate. Actually... actually...please forgive me.”
But I am caught in the wrangle of the puppeteer’s horrifying play. I have left Mumtaz far behind. He is still caught in debates and meanings. And is explaining to the manager that the secret, and only, solution to the Kashmir problem is giving us arms with which we should attack Kashmir from the rear, since we have the rightful claim to Kashmir. And the manager is nodding his head at the revelation of this secret. He is swaying with agreement. And I am thinking that Mumtaz is my dear friend, and some waves of emotion have started running through my nerves. I am thinking of forgiving him.
And the manager is saying: ‘Yes, Mumtaz sahib, till we don’t get the arms how will we be able to provide protection? Haven’t you heard what wonders arms and ammunition achieve? That poet sahib, whose collection of poems, Salsabil, has also been published, the one who lives in Misri Shah, was putting the kaffirs to their doom, with a gun to his shoulder. He showed such bravado despite being a poet, Mumtaz sahib!’
And Arif thinks that the manager is definitely wrong. Such a hateful act cannot be expected of this poet.
Excerpted with permission from The Sixth River: A Journal from the Partition of India, Fikr Taunsvi, translated with an Introduction by Maaz Bin Bilal, Speaking Tiger.
Fikr Taunsvi was the pen name of Ram Lal Bhatia (7 October 1918 – 12 September 1987), a noted Urdu satirist and columnist, born in Taunsa Sharif, which now lies in Pakistan. He is most well-known for his popular column of social satire, ‘Pyaz ke Chhilke’, or ‘Onion Skins’, which he wrote for the Urdu daily Milap. Fikr published over twenty books in Urdu including Chhata Darya, Chaupat Raja, Fikriyat, Fikr Bani, Fikr Nama, Aakhri Kitab, and at least eight in Hindi. He also wrote social comedy for TV, including the series Fikr ne Kaha with a writer, Fikr, as its central character.
Maaz Bin Bilal is associate professor in literary studies at the liberal arts school of Jindal Global University. He earned his PhD from Queen’s University Belfast in 2015 for his dissertation on the politics of friendship in EM Forster’s work. Maaz is also a translator, poet, and critic. He was Charles Wallace Fellow in Writing and Translation in Wales in 2018. Ghazalnama: Poems from Delhi, Belfast, and Urdu, published in 2019, is his first collection of poems.