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Paperback Pickings

Madness, neurosis and the red book

Memories of madness: stories of 1947 (Penguin, Rs 395) collects the best work on Partition of three excellent Indian writers: Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas and eleven short stories by Saadat Hasan Manto. Singh’s novel, his first, tells the story of Mano Majra, a village in Punjab, where Muslims and Sikhs have coexisted peacefully until a ghost train arrives from across the new border, bearing corpses of slaughtered refugees. In the escalating madness, it is eventually a Sikh dacoit in love with a Muslim girl who must avert another carnage. Sahni’s Tamas — awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1975 — draws on his experiences of communal violence in Rawalpindi. The short stories by the master of Urdu fiction, Manto, include his famous “Toba Tek Singh”: “A couple of years after the Partition...it occurred to the respective governments of India and Pakistan that inmates of lunatic asylums, like prisoners, should also be exchanged. Muslim lunatics in India should be transferred to Pakistan and Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistani asylums should be sent to India.”

sigmund freud (Rupa, Rs 195) by Robert Waelder is a rather bland and outdated little book, first published in 1942, which briefly outlines this great man’s theories of psychoanalysis, dreams and neurosis, and their application to literature, religion and education. There is much oversimplification and a chatty archaism of tone which begins to irritate in very little time. This book certainly did not deserve to be reprinted.

lipika (Macmillan, Rs 98) by Rabindranath Tagore is Joe Winter’s translation of the 1922 volume of prose-poems. It is a volume of unique experimentation which Tagore wrote in three years, starting immediately after Jallianwala Bagh, “in a small bound copybook covered in red”. This is a rather unfortunate translation which starts with a long introduction written almost entirely in the absence of a coherent critical vocabulary which goes beyond impressionistic outpourings: “His naked force finds a temporary home in a style that is at once spectacular and exquisite: a cry of the heart is suffused in the grandeur of the sunset.” There is no historical and textual information provided throughout this tedious piece of criticism. The translations abound in phrases like “parasol-maid” and “lullaby-aunt”. There is nothing at all to be recommended, except for the young girl on the cover, drawn by Paritosh Sen. It is a pity that the expiry of the Tagore copyright — in theory a good thing — should also spawn a great many books like this.


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