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Tamas is the ‘reflective response’ to the partition of India – Pakistan, one of
the most tragic events in the history of the Indian subcontinent, by Bhisham Sahni,
the master of words. A compact and blood boiling tele serial based on the same novel
was brought on Doordarshan by the known director-cinematographer Govind Nihlani.
4.1 Bhisham Sahni
Bhisham Sahni was born in 1915 in an Arya Samajist family of Rawalpindi,
Pakistan. After his schooling at Rawalpindi, he took a Master Degree in English
Literature from Lahore. After partition in 1947, Sahni with his family shifted to Delhi
and settled there. He began to teach at a college in Delhi. Thereafter he moved to
Moscow and stayed there for seven years to work as a translator at the Foreign
Languages Publishing House. In 1963, he returned to India and resumed teaching at
Sahni’s first collection of short stories Bhagyarekha (Line Of Fate) was
published in 1953. He earned much name and fame by this first creative Endeavour
itself. Thereafter came the continuous series of writings that won him awards, honours
and appreciation.
This includes seven novels, namely, Jarokhen (1967), Kadiyan (1970), Tamas
(1973), Basanti (1980), Mayadaas ki Maadi (1988), Kunto (1993) and Niloo Nilima
Nilophar (2000). He has given nine collections of short stories which have in all 120
stories complied in them. These collections are Bhagyarekha (1953), Pahlaa paath
(1957), Bhatakti Rakh (1966), Bhatakti Rakh (1966), Patariyaan (1973), Vekchao
(1978), Shobhayatra (1981), Nishachar (1983), Paali (1989) and Dayan (1998). Most
of his short stories deal with the shift in social and human relations, effects of
different events like Independence, Partition etc., in the country, contemporary
politics and corruption.
Sahni has probed into all the fields of literature. He has also written six plays,
most of which are based on mythology, history and society of India. Regarding
Sahni’s thoughts, Krishna Patel writes that he strongly believed that “a character may
remain vague in story, but it cannot in a play/drama. It is necessary that each and
every character of any play has its own specific personality.” (Translated) (2009: 24)
Bhishan Sahni’s plays include Hanush (1977), Kabira Khada Bazarme (1981),
Madhavi (1984), Muavje (1993), Rang de Basanti Chola (1996) and Aalamgeer
(1999). Sahni has gifted the children of India two collections of short stories for
children, namely Gulel Ka Khel (1989) and Vaapasi (1989).
Bhisham Sahni has been a remarkable translator too. He has translated nearly
20 Russian books into Hindi and Stories by known Punjabi writers into English. He
has written a biography on the life of his brother Lt.Balraj Sahni, a renowned film
actor. It is titled Balraaj My Brother (1981). It is the collection of memories, happy
and sad, related to his brother Balraaj. Apart to all these Apni Baat (1990) is the
collection of essays he wrote between 1947 and 1987.
Bhisham Sahni’s exemplary creations has sought him many awards and
honours. He received the prestigious ‘Sahitya Akadami Award’ for Tamas in 1973,
‘Shiormani Lekhak’ award in 1975 by Government of Panjab, ‘Lotus’ award in 1980
by Union of Asain writers and ‘Soviet Land Nehru’ award in 1983. He has been
honoured with ‘Padma Bhushan’ by the Government of India in 1997.
His novels mostly deal with a conflict dwelling inside the human being
himself. The novel Jarokhen discusses that the cultures based on fear and pain are
never humane. Equally are humane the tortures done on the name of religion. It brings
down the life of any individual. The writer has tried here to show the events
happening in a family through a child’s eyes. It also tells of how the child learns from
his experiences. Sahni once said that, “What after all is the use of this long wide
observation done during the childhood? It probably helps to understand one’s
ownself.”(Translation) (Patel 2009: 27)
Kadiyan his second novel deals with the cultures and conflicts of the middle
class society. He tells in this novel how adultery and extra marital relations spoil the
life of not one person, but the whole family. The writer here also tries to suggest that
the marriage is a delicate bond. Once snapped, is difficult to return to normal.
Tamas is an episodic novel, a ‘reflective response’ to the partition of India and
Pakistan, one of the most painful events in the history of the sub-continent. Divided
into two parts, the novel tells of evil happenings and good things striving to survive
during the Partition period. Sahni has unveiled the frustrated Imperialism, which very
few Indian writers have done in their Partition novels. It discusses both, the reason
and results of Partition.
Sahni’s Basanti is a saga of urbanization, in which the simple, straight forward
lower class people, tormented by draught, famine, hunger and thirst move to the
cities. Their life settels down to shatter again and again. It is a satire on the hypocrite
elite class and their thinking pattern.
Mayadaas Ki Maadi is a picture of how Punjab came into the clutches of the British.
The word ‘maadi’ means palatial house. This novel revolves around a ‘maadi’ in
Punjab, narrating the shifts in the Indian society and cultures in a picturesque manner.
It can be coined as his modern novel, a blend of imagination and reality.
Kunto is a novel related to Sahni’s family life. It tells of happenings of post
independence period at Lahore, Shrinagar and even Bombay. It reflects actions
reactions and sensitivity prevailing in relations in a family. The time period of the
novel begins at 25 years before Independence and ends a few days after the Indian
Niloo, Nilima, Nilophar, Sahni’s last novel focuses on the theme of ‘love’.
The novel concentrates on the problems and difficulties rose due to intercaste
marriages, the ego of the communities, and their victims and finally ‘love’- the
element that shocks and moves the established traditions.
Though Sahni had experienced the trauma of Partition himself, Tamas had to
wait for 25 years after Partition to be expressed. Tamas is Sahni’s par excellence
reflection of Partition in its most concentrated form. This novel, originally written in
Hindi, later translated into English and also transformed into visuals, is the result of
an instinct felt by the writer while walking on riot struck streets of Bhiwandi near
Mumbai in 1970s. Sahni himself had said:
“As we entered Bhiwandi, I felt as if I had seen the scene in
that town somewhere: silence all around, only one or two
people on terraces and verandahs, empty streets, as if time
had slowed down….As if I had ‘heard’ the sounds of that
‘silence’ before…..When I picked up my pen and put the
paper in front, my thoughts wandered to the riots in
Rawalpindi. The Congress office appeared before my eyes.
I found myself drowning in the memories of those