Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rajinder Singh Bedi- "Lajwanti"-A Great Urdu Short Story

Recently there has been a huge number of page views of this post from Bangalore.  Please let me know if this story is a school assignment and please leave any comments on the story on my post you might have.  

"Lajanti" by Rajinder Singh Bedi (6 pages, 1960-translator unknown)

A Story About the Plight of Women Abducted During 
the 1947 Partition of India

Rajinder Singh Bedi is considered  the second best, Saadat Hasan Manto is the highest regarded, Urdu short story writer.   Like Manto, his best known work centers on the immense human cost of the  of the 1947 Partition of India into Pakistan and India.  Much  the worst of  this holocaust (death tolls range from 1/2 a million on up to 2 million) was felt by the women as men of diverse groups took their revenge by raping  and abducting women of other groups.    Hundreds of thousands of Hindu women were abducted by Muslin and vice-versa.   Many of the women killed themselves from shame.  (You can find some background information on this here.)

Bedi (1915 to 1984) was born in Punjab region of Pakistan and moved to India at the time of the Partition.  
He was educated in Urdu.   In his early working career he was a postal clerk.   Later on he got a job at All India Radio.   It was there he began his writing career.   From here he moved  to script writing for Bollywood movies and then into directing.    It will be for his 72 short stories that he is remembered.

"Lajawanti" is about a once happily married couple.   Then in  the riots that resulted in the Partition of India (the effects were at their very worse in the Punjab region where the story is set and where Bedi grew up) the wife Lajawanto was kidnapped.    It is also a story about human cruelty.   Not just the cruelty of the abductors but of the husbands and family of the abducted women.

As the story opens we see Lajawanti expects to be beaten.   It is part of the marriage custom and it almost seems a wife regards a husband who never beats her as "unmanly".   Then she is abducted and taken over the border.   Years go by and her husband tries to get along with his life.   In time Pakistan and India authorities begin to arrange for the swapping of abducted women.   A truck load of Hindu women would be exchanged for a truck load of Muslim women.   There were lots of problems and quarrels over this.   Sometimes men of one side managing the exchange would complain that all they are getting back is "useless old and middle aged women".   The real cruelty to the women in many cases came when they returned.

There were some people who refused to have anything to do with the abducted women who cam back "couldn't they have killed themselves? Why didn't they take poison and preserve their virtue and their honour? Why didn't they Jump into a well? They are cowards, they clung to life...."
Hundreds of thousands of women had in fact killed themselves rather than be could the dead know what courage it needed to face the cold, hostile world of the living in a hard-hearted world in which husbands refused to acknowledged their wives. And some of these women would think sadly of their names and the joyful meanings they had..."suhagwanti..of marital bliss" or they would turn to a younger brother and say "Oi Bihari, my own little darling brother, when you were a baby I looked after you as if you were my own son." 

Lajawanti's husband is at first overcome with joy when one day she was among the returned women.   Lajawanti used to routinely beat his wife for the smallest matters.   He asked if the man she spent longs months with while abducted beat her.  She says no.   Then the husband begins to wonder why she looks better and healthier than before she was abducted.  Maybe she was happier with the other man.   He promises never to beat her again and he keeps his word.    He never criticizes her like he used to.     They never fight over anything.   At first she is very happy.   Then she realizes why this has happened.

Many days passed in this way. Suspicion took the place of Joy: not because Sunder Lal had resumed ill-treating her but because he was treating her too well. Lajo never expected him to be so considerate. She wanted him to be the same old Sunder Lal with whom she quarrelled over a carrot and who appeased her with a radish. Now there was no chance of a quarrel. Sunder Lal made her feel like something fragile, like glass which would splinter at the slightest touch. Lajo took to gazing at herself in the mirror. Arid in the end she could no longer recognise the Lajo she had known. She had been rehabilitated but not accepted. Sunder Lal did not want eyes to see her tears nor ears to hear her wailing.

"Lajwanti" depicts a world where women have totally internalized the idea that they are little more than property.   Imagine the horror of being abducted, taken to another country and being raped over and over for perhaps years.   When you at last return to your home country,  you are totd that your failure to kill yourself has brought great shame on your family and in many cases are driven from your old home.

You can read this story HERE

Indian short stories are a new chapter in my reading life.    I have already found links to 100s of what seem like very worth reading short stories.  

If you have any experience with South Asian short stories, please leave a comment.  

Mel u


Rohan Shedage said...

Lajwanti in hindi refers to plant Mimosa pudica, whose leaves shrink when they are subjected to human touch. Maybe in English its called touch-me-not..
Nice and touching story,thanx!

Mel u said...

Rohan-thanks very much for this information-it means a lot to the story-thanks for stopping by my blog

WordsBeyondBorders said...

I am from 'Tamil Nadu' southern part of India. Works in Tamil have unfortunately not been translated (nearly zilch) and if so not in a very good manner. I would suggest 'Asokamitran' if you could find a translation of his.

'River Of Fire' by Qurrat-ul-Ain Haider is a work translated by the author herself from Urdu to English. You could also look up 'Sadat Hasan Manto'. Both writers too deal with partition and it's aftermath.


Mel u said...

Wordsbeyondborders-thank you so much for your great suggestions-I was able to find a link to 2 stories by Sadat Hasan Manto that I have not yet read (I loved his story about the sending of patients from mental hospitals to their proper country at the time of the partition-I was not able to find the works of the other two writers online in English-if you know a link or can send me a Pdf that would be great-thanks so much for your comment and visit-I now follow your blog

Avadhnama said...

Good work. please keep sharing similar types of blogs.

Anonymous said...

The huge interest from Bangalore is because of a new TV serial "Lajo' in Zee TV based on the story Lajwanti by Rajinder singh Bedi

Vibha Hegde said...

Ditto , on the above comment. My interest in the story stems from the tv series, and wanting to understand more about the history behind it

Unknown said...

Same here , reading it because saw it on TV. 😊

HI said...

when was the original script written?

Anonymous said...

hi i am abhinanda dhar, the plight of lajwanti and sakina in Manto's short story Khol Do is same. Thier traumatic memory fails to construct a meaningful narrative.