The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan

Siddhartha Deb writes:

‘Toba Tek Singh’ is one of a number of stories about Partition by Saadat Hasan Manto, a brilliant, alcoholic Urdu writer who himself moved from Bombay to Lahore in 1948. It is set in a Lahore asylum whose inmates are about to be split up according to their religion. When they are taken to the border for the exchange, the story’s Sikh protagonist – known as Toba Tek Singh after the town he comes from – refuses to co-operate. He lies down between the new boundary posts ‘on a piece of land that had no name’, resisting to the end a displacement he had expressed no wish to be part of. The story is about the breakdown of language, and its most memorable line is a piece of nonsense repeated by Toba Tek Singh: ‘Upri gur gur di annexe di be-dhiyan di mung o daal of di laalteen.’

(LRB 1 January 2009)

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