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It is more than six weeks that I saw it but I am still haunted by the images in Lalit Mohan Joshi’s debut documentary BEYOND PARTITION, premiered at London’s Nehru Centre on 22nd February. The images have been put together in such an effective manner that you forget that it is, strictly and meanly speaking, not an original piece but a compilation of other people’s work. But to carp about the definition of what is or is not an original piece of work is to detract from the skill and originality of the creator. This kind of labelling, in my view, is irrelevant. What is relevant is to ask: Does it hold your interest? Does it make you forget that you are watching a film? Does it move you? And the answers, for me, to all those three vital questions about Joshi’s BEYOND PARTITION are: Yes, Yes and Yes.
The film, as the publicity says, "explores the trauma of Partition and how it impacted on filmmakers from the Indian sub-continent." Gulzar, Govind Nihalani, M.S. Sathyu, Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Sabiha Sumar, Shyam Benegal, Shama Zaidi, they are all there talking, grippingly about themselves and their films. There are clips from Sathyu’s Garm Hawa, Nihalani’s Tamas, Sumar’s Khamosh Pani, Mirza’s Naseem, Dwivedi’s Pinjar, Benegal’s Mammo, Attenborough’s Gandhi, and some rare archive material from The Films Division of India. But the "talking heads" and the film clips have been married so skilfully and seamlessly that it feels as if the excerpts used are not clips from previous films but especially shot sequences to illustrate the points being made by the "talking heads". And before you could say "Lalit Mohan", the lights have come on without you realising that you have been watching a film for a full one hour and five minutes. The music, the commentary, the images, and the editing have all worked magically to produce a finished piece of work that will prove to be, as a bonus, a source of reference as well for those interested in the whole subject of Partition.
And it seems there is no lack of interest in the subject, judging by the number of people who came to see the film. The Nehru Centre seemed to be packed to the rafters and the overflow spread to all the available space in the building where the proceedings were relayed on closed circuit TV.
Talking of the Nehru Centre in London - my favourite haunt since its earliest days - let me take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the work they do, day in and day out. Rarely have I been there and not had an enriching experience. It is also, for me, a symbol of the sub-continent’s unity, both in the contents of its programmes and the clientele it attracts and welcomes. Some of the most familiar faces to be seen there are some of my friends from Pakistan.
I have not the slightest doubt that those of us who, largely due to the short-sightedness of our leaders at the time, strayed into separate and unnatural entities will come back one day to the bosom of Mother India, where they naturally belong and where they will enjoy the fruits of democracy and live under the protection of a noble constitution which allows all its citizens full scope to realize their potential.
India, in the meantime, is forging ahead. If it continues to exercise restraint and remains true to its constitution, no more no less, then the day will come when the axiom " If you cannot beat them, join them" will begin to exert a gravitational pull.
Let me close with a quote from something I wrote ten years ago. It was carried by The Asian Age on its OP-ED page (Aug. 30, 1995) and reproduced by M. J. Akbar in the Introduction to his book THE SIEGE WITHIN. I ended my piece then as I do now with:
"….And the mass madness of 1947 cannot destroy the heritage of a thousand years. We made a mistake in 1947 by agreeing to Partition. It will be a bigger mistake if we accepted that Partition in our own hearts and reacted, in kind, to a false theory. The sins of their fathers should not be visited upon the children.
......like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream.
I have a dream that the people of my land will be able to travel its length and breadth without let or hindrance.
I have a dream that our own Berlin Wall erected in our minds with the brick and mortar of fear and suspicion, will be taken apart brick by brick with the labour of love and mutual trust.
…..I have a dream that the divided and estranged people of our ancient land will come together again and pool their enormous talents for the greater glory of all.
I have a dream that love will triumph over hate and that Gandhi’s life will not have been lived in vain. I have a dream."