Discuss Tamas as a partition novel.

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Bhisham Sahni’s 1974 novel Tamas (The Darkness) can be considered a Partition novel as it is recounts the immediate and later aftereffects of the 1947 Partition and the creation of India and Pakistan. In that sense, it is a sort of mixture of memories regarding the Partition as well as...

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Bhisham Sahni’s 1974 novel Tamas (The Darkness) can be considered a Partition novel as it is recounts the immediate and later aftereffects of the 1947 Partition and the creation of India and Pakistan. In that sense, it is a sort of mixture of memories regarding the Partition as well as his take on the on-the-ground, human impact of the political decision to partition the region. Scholars have noted that the novel was partially based on one of Sahni’s personal experiences with a Partition aftereffect, the 1971 riots in Bhiwandi. Witnessing this seems to have inspired Sahni to reconstruct and reflect on earlier, similar riots that came out of the Partition—in particular, the Rawalpindi riots of early 1947.

The novel reflects on how the political decision to partition the region led to polarization among the Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim communities in the Punjab and how this polarization engendered fear and hysteria and led to the breakdown of social and moral norms. The novel also takes up how this polarization, fear, and hysteria devolved into communal violence (with high casualty numbers), ethnic cleaning, and genocidal massacres from mid-1947 to early 1948. The novel addresses this history and its wounds both on the individual and community level.

For further reading, I would recommend the chapter “Partition’s Afterlife: Perspectives from the 1960s and 70s” in the edited volume Witnessing Partition: Memory, History, Fiction, edited by Tarun K. Saint.

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Tamas has to be considered one of the strongest examples of Partition on the lives of regular people on the Indian subcontinent.  Partition was a concept designed by individuals in the position of political power.  The machinations and calculations of Hindu, Muslim, and British leaders and diplomats were akin to carving up the Indian subcontinent.  Their decisions made in abstractly politicized vacuums impacted millions of ordinary people.  Tamas depicts this reality.  Sahni's work displays how Partition impacted the common individual in the most horrific of ways.  The riots and communal violence created as a result of Partition is one contribution that Tamas offered to the discourse of this sad chapter in Indian History.  In relocating the story of Partition from the geopolitical reality to the condition of regular people, Sahni's work serves as a testament to the idea that the citizens must always deal with what happens on a political level, and this can take on horrifying forms.

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