How beautiful is the dawn today?
Faiz Ahmed Faiz was not alone in lamenting that the dawn of freedom from foreign rule did not quite turn out to be the dawn people were waiting for
Ye daagh daagh ujaalaa, ye shab-gaziida sahar,
Vo intizaar thaa jis-kaa, ye vo sahar to nahiin,
Ye vo sahar to nahiin jis-kii aarzu lekar
Chale the yaar ke mil-ja'egi kahiin na kahin...
Faiz Ahmed Faiz was not alone in lamenting that the dawn of freedom from foreign rule did not quite turn out to be the dawn people were waiting for. The sky was supposed to be a vibrant rainbow of soaring hopes and joyous celebrations. But it was, as one translator of Faiz has put it, a "leprous daybreak", a "dawn mangled by night's fangs".
A file picture of Pakistani children looking at a photograph of the Partition at an exhibition in Lahore. Partition was not only about carving up an ancient land into two states, a butchery committed with knives sharpened on the whetstone of political deceit, it was also about "history's largest migration". Pic/AFP
The botched sky of freedom's dawn was Faiz's metaphor for the terrible and terrifying blood-soaked partition of India. The birth of a "moth-eaten Pakistan" may have delighted Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his Muslim League, the proud procreators of what was destined to evolve into a festering cesspool of Islamic bigotry, hate and fanaticism, but it was a gut-wrenching experience for millions of refugees who were uprooted from the only lives they had known and hurled into strange lands.
Partition was not only about carving up an ancient land into two states, a butchery committed with knives sharpened on the whetstone of political deceit, it was also about "history's largest migration". It was not a peaceful transfer of populations; if the Congress leaders of the time actually believed it would be so, then their naivety was as criminal as their abject capitulation before Jinnah's rabid separatism.
There was nothing magical about August 15 or 1947. If India survived the rapacious John Company after the Battle of Plassey and the strip-and-loot British Raj that followed the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, impoverished in health but high in spirit, it would have survived for another few years. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel need not have bothered about providing a war-savaged Britain an honourable exit from its sub-continental colony.
Historians would tell this tale differently, but it was not the lure of azadi that propelled the Congress to accept Mountbatten's divide-and-quit plan. If Jinnah was a man in haste who wanted to beat the tuberculosis gnawing away at his lungs to his dreamt destiny, then the old men of the Congress were in no less of a hurry to don the robes of free India's rulers.
History is essentially about 'what ifs'. What if India gained independence a few years later? What if Jinnah had died a few years earlier? What if the war had not turned into a global conflagration and Britain not been beggared? What if a revolutionary regime had seized power, as Subhas Chandra Bose had planned, before the night of long knives left India wounded forever?
But as the proverb goes, if ifs and buts were pots and pans, there would be no work for tinkers' hands. And so it is that India woke to freedom on a 'leprous dawn' this day in 1947. Sadly, it is yet to achieve its destiny. As for Pakistan, it is destined to turn Jinnah's fond though fevered dream into a nightmare, a phantasmagorical distortion of what was supposed to be the 'Land of the Pure'.
We may yet reach the milestone of destiny and celebrate true freedom. Pakistan will never get to that point. Ever.
The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta