The short stories, Revenge and The Man Who did not Want to Remember by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, exploit ironic mode of storytelling to foreground the brutality of violence and to underline the bourgeois and patriarchal underpinnings, thereby excavating the "painful memory" of trauma and pain that the victims have undergone ("Revenge" 15). The writer, while ironizing the violence "to convey [the] political messages about minority," has used irony as "a vehicle for political commentary" (Davis 26-27). While exploring such a politics of the irony in the stories, the paper aims for exposing the violence perpetrated in two levels: one is the violence of marginal groups like women, secular individuals, and working class people in both Hindu and Muslim communities; and another is the violence in the official representations of both India and Pakistan. With these expositions, the writer contends that the ironic representation of such a massive violence of inclusion and exclusion in the stories functions as a counter discourse that on the one hand questions the validity of the official representations and on the other, critiques the bourgeois and gendered politics during and aftermaths of the partition of India in 1947.
In order to substantiate the argument of the paper, the writer takes help of the ideas of Linda Hutcheon on irony who claims that the irony creates a space or gap "between the said and unsaid" in which the unsaid counters and invalidates the voice of the said (13). She further argues that irony is "self-critical, self-knowing [and] self-reflexive mode that has the power to challenge . . . the hierarchy of every site of discourse, a hierarchy based on the social relations of dominance and overturn" (30). Exploring this "politically transformative power" of irony (30), the paper develops the argument that Abbas has used the irony in the stories as, in Fisher's words, a "survival skill, a tool for knowledge acknowledging [the] complexity, a means for exposing or subverting oppressive hegemonic ideologies, and an art for affirming life in the face of [the] objective troubles" of the partition violence (qtd. in Hutcheon 26).
The irony used in "Revenge," particularly, exposes the absurdity of the partition violence unmasking the "insanity" of the communal and familial violence solely perpetrated on the line of "Revenge! Revenge!! Revenge!!!" that buries the rationale of conflict under the "hat[reds]" and "fur[ies]" of "riots" and "massacres" (15). The intensity of the violent trauma is also highlighted through the ironic juxtaposition of color images wherein "red" represents the "fresh human blood" and "yellow" refers to "the pallor on the dead man's face" that strike the "eyes," penetrate the "brain," and pierce the "whole body" of the victims who have been treated to the level of inanimate "stone" making them at once "blind," "deaf," "dumb," and "dead" (14-15).
The violence in the story is portrayed to the level of "devil's camp fire"- the blazing furnace of a horrible civil war contextualized "in Lyallapur when Punjab was split" where the victims such as Hari Das who lost their "entire family" and properties (15). Das's wife has thrown herself into a river to save the "honour" of her family, community and religion (15). This said information of Das's wife's drowning herself into the river in the story ironically recalls the unsaid familial violence perpetrated upon women by their kinsmen forcing them to take self-immolation in the name of upholding the purity and honor of the family. Such a patriarchal notion of locating the purity and honor of family and community in woman's body acted as the catalyst to the Thoa Khalsa event during the Rawalpindi massacre of March 1947-an incident in which ninety Sikh women "drowned themselves by jumping into a well" ("Community," Butalia 44). This unsaid information self-critically exposes the fact that how their own kinsmen have, as Menon and Bhasin claim, turned out into the violent perpetrators:
Very large numbers of women were forced into death to sexual violence against them to preserve chastity and protect individual, familial and community "honour." The means used to accomplish this end varied; when themselves took their lives, they would either jump into the nearest well or set themselves ablaze, singly, or in groups that could be made up either of all the women in the family; the younger women; or women and children. (42)
The nature of such a familial violence was so patriarchal that the death or killing of their fellow women was glorified as "martyrdom," an "act of bravery" and "heroism" of "supreme sacrifice" for saving their purity and honor ("Tradition," Butalia 186).
Similarly, Das's seventeen-year-old daughter, Janki has been abducted, raped, and stabbed to death in front of her father. This cruel event further reinforces how the deeply rooted patriarchal convention of "regarding the purity and honour of women" as the purity and honor of family, community, and nation has transformed the partition struggle into "sexual and reproductive violence," subjecting women body as "a sign through which men communicated with each other" (Das 56). In other words, such a patriarchal ideology towards the women's purity and pollution on one hand and the honor and shame on the other, conditioned the women to be the locus of double subordination in incidents of collective violence within family and among different communities (56), treating their body as a territory either to be conquered by the men of the other communities or to be protected by the men of their own families (Menon and Bhasin 42), "for the wounds inflicted on them scarred and fainted [the] entire communities" (Basu 271). At least one hundred thousand women are said to have been abducted and raped by all the three parties-Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs during the partition violence. So, the ironic representation of such violence on women in the story unearths the inhuman nature of "'[p]ower rape,' the raping of women to demonstrate and defeat rival men in patriarchal societies" because the rape of a woman is akin to the rape of the honor of the community she belongs to (Ray 14).
Therefore, the irony in the story turns out to be politically subversive as it is directed at the subversion of the long-rooted patriarchal conventions that take women as fragile, innocent, and delicate- always in need of protection as they are easy to be violated. Such a double subordination of women is being ironically resurfaced in the narrative description where Janki is being described as "[t]he darling of her mother, the apple of her father's eye! Janki who had a rose-petal complexion, whose eyes put nargis flowers to shame, who was so delicate and fragile that one feared she might break at the nearest touch . . . . The fair and innocent face of Janki" (16). Here, Abbas precisely ironizes the patriarchal ideology of looking at women by justifying the cause of why "the lustful" Muslim men have only targeted Janki as the source of revenge while leaving Hari Das to live in trauma (16).
But, like the Muslim men above, Hari Das is also under the hegemony of the same ideologies. His description of the Muslims with "horrible faces slowly, deliberately, advancing towards Janki" unmasks not only his hatred and fury for revenge(16), but also unhides the disguised faces of the patriarchy both in the religious disguise of Islamism and Hinduism. The writer's irony here undercuts "the untamed barbarism" of the patriarchy (18). So, "the merciless tearing and ripping of the clothes" of Janki is, though apparently by Muslim men, by the ideology of the patriarchy wherein ironically Das himself is embedded (17). The "blood-curdling screams" of Janki during the assault echo the traumatic agony of all the women who have been victimized in different familial and communal gendered and sexual violence (17).
The political edge of irony in the story gets further sharpened when Hari Das, being outraged at the violence perpetrated on his daughter, explains that he has lived only to take revenge at a Muslim girl of the same age of his daughter. His conviction shows his patriarchal notion of revenge that targets woman's body for revenge rather than that of a man. His patriarchal notion even gets further undercut when he compares his innocent Janki's "dishonour and humiliation" to the cremation of "the honour of India" (17). This shows how Das is not, like the Muslims, free from locating the honor of the nation in women's body converting them at once into a sign through which the monstrous men exchanged their violent revenges (17). Das's determination "to take revenge by stabbing a Muslim girl in her naked breasts" is dealt ironically that reveals how Hari Das (18), being blind to the notion of revenge, carries his long-exercised patriarchy taking recourse to the economic power that the men have monopolized. His "three hundred rupees" fund that he gets from "the Refugee Rehabilitation" has been misused to access the place where his target is (18).
The irony in the story gradually exposes Das as a violence mongering patriarch who reaches to a place where a "Muslim girl" or "a Pakistani hoor" has been the target of many Hindu and Sikh men for their revenge against Muslim community (19). The "oily-looking man with a vicious leer across his face," who instigates Das to take revenge of his daughter through the sexual violence at the Muslim girl. Such an event of imposing sexual violence on the women as the sex workers shows the dirty nature of patriarchy that has reified the woman body as a sexed commodity-a bitter reality ironically reflected in the old man's remarks to the Muslim girl: "'She is a rare chicken, Babuji. Just about seventeen or eighteen.' And then in a lower voice, looking furtively to the right and left. 'We brought her from Jullunder. Daughter of some prominent man. It has taken us ten months to tame her and to put her into this business'" (19). The cohort's words like chicken and business echo how the partition violence was also bourgeois-induced patriarchal violence treating women as trade objects,
which reminds us of the events of the sexual violence such as a Kamoke train blast where the local train officer has sexually violated the young girls of the incident, and sold them to the police officers and the local goondas (thugs) for monetary benefit as Aparna Basu reports:
[In] the Kamoke train incident, the station House Officer collected the young women in an open space and distributed them like sweets among the police, the national guards, and the local goondas (thugs). Women were sold or given away as gifts in the same way that baskets of orange are sold and given as gifts. The first rate 'goods' were shared out among the members of the police and the army: the second rate went to anyone else. The old women were discarded and abandoned. (272)
There were people who were ready to rescue women if they were paid handsome money. This was even more serious to Hindu and Sikh women who had been abducted to Pakistan. In fact, in the words of Kamlaben Patel, their families solely on the economic line accepted them. According to her,
Hindu women were often accepted by their families because of economic failure. People had come from Pakistan as refugees and had no money. They did not have a woman to do the housework- a housewife. But here and there was a woman available. So, forgetting everything, they took her. They accepted them out of helplessness, not broadmindedness. (qtd. in Basu 276)
Similar bourgeois patriarchal notion surfaces in the comments of Das to the girl: "This girl [is] really a hoor . . . . Very slim and delicately built" ("Revenge" 20). Here, a woman's strength- her physical charm- ironically becomes the cause of her undoing. The purchase scene is the replication of the cruelty of the patriarchy that is clear from the following lines:
He could see that she was no 'professional'. Though she simulated all the 'tricks of the trade'-moving her bare arms and wiggling her eyes as she sang- she did it mechanically, without feeling. Like a clockwork doll! And Hari Das had the uncanny feeling that he was watching not a living human being but a corpse which somehow had been animated by a magician. (21)
It is this ironic uncanny that makes the writer's irony so radically subversive at this point that the person, who feels the girl not as a living human being but a dead, is about to be disfigured. The passage bears out not only the irrationality inherent in vengeful patriarchy, but also the degree of dead sensibility in Das that outweigh the intensity of violence that he has suffered. Such an ironic undercutting persists in the story along with Das's firm conviction for his revenge. He hands "over the two-hundred-notes" to the Muslim girl who passes "them on to the fat, black woman" (21). The involvement of the black woman in the sexual violence underlines that the patriarchy is at its strongest when women themselves participate in it, colluding in the notions of honour that privilege male control over sexuality, and over their lives and desires.
Abbas, therefore, hits hard at the core of the patriarchy by presenting Das as the representative of the vengeful bourgeois patriarch. The ironic edge goes on sharpening as Das commands to the girl for his intention of violation:
'Take off your clothes. . . . I have paid two hundred rupees. . . . Hurry up. . . . 'This, too,' indicating the brassiere. . . . The knife-blade flashed in Hari Das's right hand . . . poised for the fatal plunge . . . with a lightening stroke his left hand snatched the brassiere. . . . He pulled it away. . . . The dagger remained poised in the air. . . . A single word escaped 'Daughter!' (23)
In the quote, the pauses reflect the ironic unsaid of what have been said. Das's sharp knife remains in the air because beneath "the brassiere where he" is going "to stab her, there" is "no breasts," there is "nothing-nothing but two horrible round scars!" (23). By using situational irony, Abbas here harps on the savagery of the violence based on revenge, and severely criticises the bourgeois patriarchy for making how women have been the locus for retaliation in the partition violence. The ironic reversal at the end of the story unmasks the sexual violence exerted on the women's body for the revenge of the opponent community by stripping and parading the women naked, by disfiguring and branding the breasts and genitalia with triumphal slogans during the partition period.
So, the irony used in the story underwrites the irrationality inherent in the bourgeois and patriarchal ideologies that have kept the women at the receiving end at the communal and familial violence. The subversion of the bourgeois and patriarchal familial and communal violence, which has converted the women's body as a territory to be conquered and protected-as the space for men's violent exchange of revenge- is achieved in the story through the ironic juxtaposition of the two girls, Janki and the Muslim girl victimized as the targets of the men of the both Muslim and Hindu communities where Hari Das, being blind in the veil of revenge, finally finds himself as a capitalist patriarch. He turns out to be a more violent than the hypersexual Muslims who assaulted his daughter, Janki. Abbas gives a solution of such a communal violence of the patriarchy through Das's acceptance of the Muslim girl as a daughter. At this point, the author's irony shrouds with doubt of whether his notion of daughter is again another subtle form of the patriarchal construction that does not equal the daughter with son.
Similarly, the another story, "The Man Who did not Want to Remember" by Abbas also uses irony that demystifies the irrationality of the communal violence by exposing how a secular individual has been the regular butt of each violence exerted by different communities. His use of irony turns to be political when he directs it to question the Indian nationalist's apparent rallying cry for a secular identity. The irony in the story begins with the central character's "laughing" while dying (77). The laughing implies a sharp irony that exposes the cruelty of the communal violence directed at the secular person who is imposed the condition of identitilessness and offered "two deep stab wounds" in the ribs all the way from the back to the liver (77).
The reason of such a sectarian violence is, in this way, exposed:
For more than two months now I have been trying to find out who I am: A Muslim or a Hindu or a Sikh who might have been forcibly shaved and circumcised? A Brahmin or an untouchable? Rich or poor? From the East Punjab or the West Punjab? A resident of Lahore or Amritsar? Of Rawalpindi or Jullunder? Not only I but many others have tried to establish my identity- my caste, my religion, my name! But no one could unravel this mystery. Even I could not remember, though I tried very hard. (78)
The irony implicit in the above quote undercuts the level-headedness of the separatist violence meted out in the name of religion. The speaker's memorylessness ironically exposes his bitter traumatic mind imposed upon him only because he does not want to remember the community he belongs to. This communal convention of violence further shows how far the communities-regardless of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs-are religiously obsessed fanatics.
The writer, therefore, by using the ironic mode of a storytelling highlights the insular nature of the communal violence that has always made the living of an independent individual despicable in the society. The political edge of irony undercuts the barbarism underlied in the separatist violence of India and Pakistan. The speaker is the representative of the victims of such a barbarism-a survivor of the train massacre in between Amritsar and Lahore:
[M]any dead and wounded from both trains [were] lying right on the newly-drawn boundary line. They lay so hopelessly mixed up that it was difficult to determine who was a Hindu and who was a Muslim. I had happened to be one of them . . . unconscious in a Shalwar and Shirt soaked in blood, lying sprawled across the border so that while my legs were in Pakistan, the rest of the body was in the Indian Union. And the new boundary line, which cut across a field, was drawn- in a blood! The blood of the Hindu and the Muslim and the Sikh which had mingled and seeped into the good earth, undistinguishable, indivisible. (50)
In this way, Abbas intensifies the violence exerted along the line of communal differences for establishing the separate and independent States, which have boundary lines drawn by mixed blood of the victims from all the three communities. The irrationality of the communal separatism is further attacked in the story when the character suffers from the relentless blast of the communal interrogations that explode louder than the bomb:
'The camp is for Muslims!'
'This camp is for Hindus!'
'Who are you?'
'What is your name?'
'What is your religion?'
'Where have you come from?' (32)
These questions raised by the Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs imply the ironic interrogations targeted at the fire of the communalism that has fuelled the separatist violence. Because of the communal alignments, the speaker has been equally questioned and suspiciously eyed for his possible communal identity: "I have heard that here in Bombay the Parsi folk leave their dead in the Tower of Silence, to be devoured by the vultures. These evil birds, I am told, hover there all the time waiting for a corpse to be brought in. But I did not know that there are human vultures here which start hunting a dying man, even before he is dead" (80).
The human vultures from the three different communities have made the narrator "a notorious freak"- a man without a name. Because of these vultures, he gets refuge neither in Muslim refugee camp nor in the Hindu. There have been "refugee camps for Hindus," Muslims, and Sikhs, "but none for human beings" (81). The humanitarian cry of the refugee camps has been demystified ironically where the independent human being like the character always remains as a permanent refugee wandering from one camp to another and living in an "open road" with "starvation" (82). The narrator's determination to live as a human being becomes a curse in such a community. His ultimate refuge in a house of a Sikh Sardar Sahib becomes impossible as he has been eyed with suspicion by Sardar's relatives who have been severely violated by the Muslim marauders. Irony is explicit in his traumatic condition when he is conditioned to suspect himself: "'Suppose I am a Muslim! Who knows, I too might have committed such atrocities before I was injured and lost my memory. . . . [So,] I ran away from Sardar Sahib's house'" (82).
The inhumane perpetration of the communal violence has been further ironized by recounting the murder of a little Muslim boy of about eight years old who has "offered food and shelter" to the poor victims irrespective of their communal belongingness (83). But some Hindus murder the boy, who goes as usual to deliver food to some hungry destitute. The violence directed at the secular individuals makes the speaker's shelter in the Muslim's house despicable as the violence haunts him: "Suppose I am a Hindu! Suppose before I lost my memory. I too have killed Muslim children like the Hakim Sahib's son! [It] became a torture. [So,] I quite slowly stole away" (84). This supposed life of the speaker who is "drifting aimlessly, dodging and escaping" carries a serrated edge of irony that underlines the inhumanity inherent in the Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communal ethics where even the speaker's long "beard" becomes a sign of danger in "the ugly business of cold-blooded murder" (84).
So, his laughing while dying reveals this nonsensical aspect of the partition violence. The assassinators who shout "Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai" while shooting down the Muslims excavates the ironic unsaid of ahimsa inherent both in Hinduism and Gandhian ideology (84). Irony, thus, has been used as a powerful critique of the communalism replicated in rhetorical questions of the speaker:
The thoughts kept revolving in my mind: 'Who is a Hindu? Who is a Muslim? That young man who saved my life in the train, though I looked like a Muslim- is he a Hindu? Or those ruffians of Dariba who killed Hakim Sahib's innocent child- are they Hindus? Who are Muslims- Hakim Sahib and his family or those sadistic barbarians who killed, tortured and dishonoured so many Sikh men and women in Rawalpindi? And who are Sikhs- the kind-hearted Sardar Sahib and his family or those who played havoc in Delhi? (85)
The irony hidden in the texture of the quote exposes the fact that no individual's identity can be reckoned solely on the ground of his/her communal belongingness. Instead, the individual identity should remain always as a human being. This ironic meaning undercuts the validity of the separatist violence. The speaker even in dream screams: "'Leave me alone I don't know what I am. I am not a Hindu, I am not a Muslim, I am not a Sikh" (86). The reason is that he is only a human being whom "even charity" is "denied" and before giving any "alms" everyone wants to find if he belongs to the right community (86). But the irony is that he belongs to no community and nowhere.
The situational irony exploited in the story, therefore, subverts notions like separatism and communalism exercised during the partition violence so much that even the doctor like Samani offers his talking therapy solely on the ground of communal identity by instigating the speaker to take revenge: "'Who are these people who are burning your home and killing your people? You have to take revenge! revenge!!'" (88). For Abbas, this communalist notion is one of the main reasons for the partition violence. So, he presents his character for the sake of unity and humanity because the communalism has made every Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh killers. But such a separatist ideology is downplayed by presenting a character who does not like to remember his communal identity due to which he becomes "Saala," "mawali," and "Kafir Ka Baccha" of the communities being violated from both the Muslim and Hindu communities equally (89). He is stabbed with a knife on his back by a Muslim before he finishes his muttering in trauma: "'I am a Hindu. I am a Mus . . .'" (89). In the same way, a Hindu, before the speaker completes to say a 'Hindu,' slashes him in his stomach: "'I am a Muslim. I am a Hin . . .'" (89).
Similarly, he does not want to remember his name because doing so will reveal his communal identity. The narrator's problematization of his identity reveals his ironic purpose:
But, you, my friends, you are waiting in vain. Never, never will I tell you whether I was a Hindu or a Muslim. Neither my Muslim murderer nor my Hindu assassin would know which of them killed a member of his own community 'by mistake'! This is my revenge not only against these two, but against all those Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs who killed thousands of human beings like me, who have degraded and disgraced the fair name of my beloved Punjab. (90)
The speaker's laughing, therefore, is targeted at those Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs who have killed their fellow beings by knowing or unknowing their communal identities in their blind frenzy of revenge.
In this way, "The Man who did not Want to Remember" demystifies the untamed barbarism of sectarian and separatist violence exposing the speaker-a secular individual with no memory of his name, religion and community- as an incessant victim of all the three communities. Abbas's use of irony in the story, therefore, undercuts the apparent rallying cry of the Indian nationalism for the secular identity during the partition period. He exposes the insanity of the communal separatist violence perpetrated in the name of religion, touchability, class, and geographical region. This convention of the violence, in the story, shows how far the communities, regardless of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh, are religiously obsessed fanatics that made the living of independent individual despicable in society. Abbas ironizes the violence exerted on the bases of the communal differences for establishing the separate and independent States which have boundary lines drawn by mixed blood of the victims from all the three communities. In other words, his irony reinforces the futility and tragedy of demarcating boundaries and the impossibility of dividing homes and hearts by means of such a terrible communal violence.
Thus, the ironic representation of the partition violence in of "Revenge" and "The Man Who did not Want to Remember" excavates the futility and madness of the violence of revenge perpetrated either under the convention of reifying and locating the honor and purity on women's body leading to the familial and communal sexual and reproductive violence or in the name of communalist sectarian and separatist ideologies violence that have always put the women and marginal at the receiving end of the revenge during and aftermaths of the partition of India. While doing so, the writer does not only reevaluate and critique the partition historiography of modern India and Pakistan that has largely elided the sexual, reproductive, sectarian, and separatist nature of the partition violence by representing the violence, as Gyanendra Pandey argues, either "as an aberration . . . in the sense that violence is seen as something removed from the general run of . . . history . . . [,] an exceptional moment, not the 'real' history. . . at all," or as a purely politico-religious movement fought for freedom (27), but also use the irony as the unspoken premise where silence can be heard and can prelude the outright advocacy of the injustice to the victims.