A woman, in a grubby grey saree, carelessly draped, hair tousled, eyes shrouded with anguish, but more distinctively, panic, crouches by the corpse of her husband. Three girls are huddled by her side, the same expression of desperation, pain, and fear in their eyes. They want to lament their husband and father’s cruel, cold-blooded murder. Wanting to howl at the skies, curse destiny. They want to break down and hold their ‘man’. They wish to look at him long and hard, to capture his features, his laughter, his gait, his eyes full of love for them. He, lies there neck slit open with a sword, bloody and cold. But his women just let him bleed. They leave him in the arms of the hard, cruel earth and run for their lives! They have to save themselves. Their honor. Their lives! With hearts as heavy as mighty mountains and eyes filled with unshed tears, they let him be, and melt into the shadow of the grim evening, looking for a safe place.
This is just one tiny story among the multitude of horrors and tragedies of Partition of India. That’s when Faiz Saab wrote
“Ye daagh daagh ujala, ye shab-gazida sahar
Vo intezaar tha jiska ye vo sahar toh nahi
Ye vo sahar to nahi jiski aarzu le kar
Chale the yaar ki mil jayegi kahin na kahin
Falak ke dasht mein taaron ki aakhri manzil …”
Just like millions of others, he probably also had envisioned a glorious, incandescent independence from the yoke of British rule. A prosperous and peaceful nation. Flourishing fields, markets thronging with people whose eyes are full of hopes and dreams. Families celebrating. Laughter ringing in the alleys and lamps lit in houses. An aura of celebration. Stability. Prosperity.
Instead, the morning after was dark and dismal, as innocents were brutally murdered, women raped, shops vandalized and rivers overflowed with blood. So, what does one do but bitterly lament the distorted vision of freedom and betrayal rather than the sublime dreams envisioned? The poem goes on to depict a sense of tragedy with its people caught in a flood of communalism and atrocities committed against each other.
The ‘Dawn of Freedom’ was written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz in August 1947, right after the Partition of India. It is a lyrical rendition that talks about unrequited love and unfulfilled goals. In the first few lines, mentioned above, he creates an imagery of ‘day break’ which symbolizes the expectation and hope for a newly-founded nation and its people. He goes on to say,
“Kahin to hoga shab-e-sust mauj ka sahil
Kahin to jaake rukega safina-e-gham-e-dil.”
He is hopeful that this misery and struggle will be over. As he compares the struggles to a boat, he is certain that the misery will end someday and the boat will finally reach its destination. Here Faiz Saab talks on behalf of the Pakistani youth who fought, with all their might, against all hurdles, for freedom. Freedom which, like daybreak, would be a new, prosperous chapter in their history. The freedom for which they had given up everything, worldly comforts, warnings of caution. Everything.
“Dayar-e-husn ki be-sabr khawab-gahon se
Pukarte rahin bahen badan bulate rahe
Bahut aziis thi lekin rukh-e-sahar ki lagan
Bahut karin tha hasinan-e-nur ka daman …”,
All because that morning, when would meet their beloved freedom, it would be the much awaited sight as it would be the most spectacular moment of their lives.
The next few lines talk about misguidance and false images of bliss and joy portrayed by the political system as they wanted people to live in a fairytale world of happiness where anguish and trauma should be buried deep within the hearts and minds.
“Badal chuka hai bahut ahl-e-dard ka dastur
Nashat-e-vast halal o azab-e hijr haram”
However, the lingering sense of betrayal and horror, and desolation remained. People were shamed, their eyes downcast, their hearts full of remorse. They were horrified. At themselves. As they became killers, criminals, and looters, their Punjab burnt. As women committed mass suicides to safeguard their honor, brothers killed each other for vengeance, children were orphaned, and homes were usurped. They became inhumane. Was this the ‘freedom’ they had envisaged?
Was this why martyrs succumbed to death? Was this the legacy they sought?
“Kahan se aayi nigar-e-saba kidhar ko gayi
Abhi charagh-e-sar-e-rab ko kuchh khabar hi nahi
Abhi garani-e-shab mein kami nahi ayi
Najat-e-dida-o-dil ki ghadi nahi ayi
Chale-chalo ki vo manzil abhi nahi ayi”
The poet states the bewildered state of people here as he explains that they could not fathom when the ‘much-promised morning breeze’, came and where it eloped. It was supposed to be fragrant and refreshing. Freedom was deemed to bring glory. When did it come and when was that glory lost? The darkness is still rampant, it weighs us down. The moment of liberation and light has not been achieved yet.
However, melancholy and desolate it may sound, Faiz Saab’s ‘Subh-e-aazadi’ ends on a positive note as it urges the masses to keep on trying, to keep moving vigilantly towards the ‘manzil’ as it was yet to arrive.
The question that still haunts one is that was the holocaust of Partition worth it. The heartbreak, the loss, the longing is the legacy we continue to carry even after more than seven decades. Most of us haven’t experienced the gruesome events ourselves but we have heard stories. We have watched movies like ‘Pinjar’. We have read ‘Subh-e-Azadi’ and ‘Aaj Akkan Waaris Shah Nu’ and ‘Raseedi Ticket’ and ‘A Train to Pakistan’. And how do we feel? I feel numbed. I want to cry; hot, violent tears, hoping they will cleanse the treachery of the past. But my tears don’t flow. They are horrified too! It’s as if they refuse to fall in protest against what happened in both countries, especially the Punjab region. What about you? Do you feel the pain…the humiliation…the loss?