An untold story of the ‘second’ partition

The lines of partition divide collective memory far more effectively than they determine the sovereignty of nation-states; mostly resulting in a gross imbalance of triumph and trauma.

In the case of the Indian subcontinent, millions of people have gone through the traumatic experience of partition twice within their lifetimes. Aquila Ismail, author of ‘Of Martyrs and Marigolds,’ is one of them.

We sat down with Aquila to talk about her book, which presents a fictionalized narrative around the violence of partition, mirroring her own family’s experiences in the turbulent circumstances leading up to and immediately after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 – and how they became refugees in what used to be their own country.

Watch this interview to hear her talk about her family’s history, the personal effect of writing about a traumatic past, the audience she had in mind, and the impact of total dispossession.

She recalls the process of recording the memories as very painful, which reopened many wounds from the past, but one she has no regrets about going through. While writing, she got to reconnect with old friends from Bangladesh, those who had gone through the same events in history, but did not know her story.

 “The painful thing is, in West Pakistan, there was no knowledge or even desire to find out what happened to the Pakistanis,” says Aquila, touching upon the lack of preexisting literature around the 1971 partition, and one of the reasons it was important for her to write it down.

Aquila’s decision to produce the book as fiction instead of a memoir was inspired by reading literary classics the likes of Proust and Dostoevsky, which made her a better writer, and helped her in realizing the importance of representing the stories of other people who had been similarly affected.

The family’s experience as refugees in newly formed Bangladesh left a particular impression on Aquila’s sister, Perween Rehman, who became one of the fiercest advocates against dispossession, and fought against violence and eviction throughout a resounding 28-year career as a civil activist, until her murder in 2013.

The book is available at Liberty Books outlets and webstore, as well as in the famous protected heritage bookshop “Pioneer Book House” (Opp. Dow Medical College, M.A. Jinnah Road, Karachi).

For more of our conversations with Authors of Pakistan, visit our YouTube Channel.