75 years and one day ago, on the eve of India’s independence from British rule, the nation’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, stood in New Delhi’s Parliament House and delivered what is considered by many to be among the greatest speeches of the 20th century. “At the stroke of the midnight hour,” he announced, “India will awake to life and freedom.”
The speech’s title comes from its first sentence, in which Nehru famously proclaimed that “long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny.” In the weeks, months, and years that followed, however, the result of that tryst quickly revealed itself: not, as the world had hoped, the birth of a strong and healthy newborn nation, but rather a painful and bloody miscarriage. With independence came the territory’s partition into the two separate countries of India and Pakistan in a process that was hastily carried out by a British lawyer who, prior to being tasked with drawing the new borders, had never traveled east of Paris. What followed was an almost unfathomable orgy of violence, triggering one of the largest forced migrations in human history.
Much of the writing that has been produced over the years about the legacies of Partition has referred to the lasting “scars” of that great historical tragedy—the scars left in the hearts of people in the form of generational trauma, the scars left on the land itself in the form of the border. Referring to Partition’s as “scars”, however, misses the mark entirely. A scar is not a wound—it is the tissue that forms after a wound has healed, a visible reminder that the process of regeneration can never fully efface the damage that was done.
To refer to Partition’s legacies as “scars” is to wrongly assume that its wounds have since healed, that new tissue has formed to replace that which was slashed away three-quarters of a century ago. Such rhetorical distancing only papers over the fact that 75 years on, the border-shaped gashes that were cut by a white hand into the breast of my mother country still, stubbornly, refuse to heal. Left to seethe and fester, the infection that took hold at the moment of the wounding has since spread gangrenously to the furthest extremities of the nation’s body politic, poisoning the hearts and minds of millions with the same genocidal hatred that spurred Partition’s orgiastic carnage. All the homespun khadi cloth that the nation’s looms could ever possibly produce would not be enough to bandage a wound so vast and so septic.
As the horrors of Partition remind us—even 75 years later—a border is more than a line drawn on a map. It is a tear in the very fabric of humanity iself, capable of dissolving even the strongest bonds of community and brotherhood and replacing them with a blind, deadly hatred. It is, perhaps, the single most potent distillation of our species’ capacity for unspeakable violence.
It’s been 75 years, and the blood continues to flow. The scar tissue still has yet to form.
no more mangoes is a blog by Pranay Somayajula, a D.C.-based fiction writer and essayist. Click the button below to subscribe for free and receive new essays in your inbox:
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Beautifully written, Pranay. It's strange to use the word "beautiful" in reference to such ghastly business, but it's true. I do hope the blood will stop flowing someday so that the scar can begin to form.