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Glimpses of Bengal Partition in Atin Bandyopadhyay’s ‘Infidel’ (Kafir) and its relevance to History

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RESEARCH REVIEW International Journal of Multidisciplinary 2021; 6(6):125-127
ISSN: 2455-3085 (Online)
https://doi.org/10.31305/rrijm.2021.v06.i06.021
Double Blind Peer Reviewed/Refereed Journal
https://www.rrjournals.com/
125
Research Paper
Glimpses of Bengal Partition in Atin Bandyopadhyay’s ‘Infidel’ (Kafir) and its
relevance to History
*Md Mizanur Rahaman Sardar
Assistant Professor of English, Polba Mahavidyalaya, Polba, Hooghly, 712148, West Bengal
Literature being a mirror to social reality, it has established itself as an alternate archive of time. The partition of Bengal and
of India, the grand historical narrative of which has often been regarded as the sole one, has articulated the other little, unofficial ones
culled from humane expressions of people directly or indirectly affected by the pangs of partition. The curving out of a state breaking
the age-old bonding of heart, the displacement of roots, riots, violence, killings, rape among other unpleasant things had ensued a
strange emotion of disbelief and mistrust reflected more in the informal and the alternate methods, namely literature, memories,
letters, diaries, than in the so called ‘history’ of partition.
The partition of India as experienced in the Eastern front of the nation is different from that of the Western front. Unlike the
depiction of the reality of partition in the Western front, the Bengal partition (1905, 1947, and 1971) almost maintained a silence in
exposing the violence faced by people fleeing across the Bengal border. Much has been explored on the historical and social
background of partition, but the real experience of the people can only be gathered from oral histories or interviews, or gleaned from
the fiction that retells the violence, the trauma, the small act of humanity with the people among other display of pure humane
elements.
Apart from many other things the question of religion and identity come hand in hand almost becoming synonymous in the
larger scale. The rift in the age-old unity of Hindus and Muslims brings to the fore many questions, both social and personal. Whereas
the political questions have essentially been analyzed and interpreted through history and political standpoints, the personal ones get
caught in the web of informal stories never getting the desired air to breathe in.
Article Publication
Published Online: 15-Jun-2021
*Author's Correspondence
Md Mizanur Rahaman Sardar
Assistant Professor of English, Polba
Mahavidyalaya, Polba, Hooghly, 712148,
West Bengal
mizanursardar[at]gmail.com
© 2021The Authors. Published by Research
Review Journals
This is an
open access article under the
CC BY-NC-ND license
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-
nc-nd/4.0/)
ABSTRACT
The partition of India in 1947 has its strong reaction in the literature of the vernacular. Atin
Bandyopadhyay is one of the few Bengali writers to portray the pangs of Partition. In his
story Infidel’ (Kafir) he presents the plight of Paran and Hashim. Paran is trying to flee from
a Muslim dominated place with the help of his friend Hashim. The effort, though proves to
be futile at the end, presents the agony of partition in its varied forms rootlessness, faith,
identity, friendship, human values among other aspects.
Keywords: Faith, identity, partition, rootlessness, religion.
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Vol-6 | Issue-6 | June-2021
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Short stories of the period give us glimpses of the loss of a homeland, the new life of a refugee and the fragility of borders in
the construction of identities.
Born in 1934 in Dhaka Atin Bandopadhaya is one of those writers who witnessed the gory partition in his adolescence. He
has penned many works since then, but his masterpiece is a trilogy on partition : Nilkantha Pakhir Khonje, Aloukik Jalajan and
Ishwarer Bagan. Nilkantha Pakhir Khonje earned him a lot of fame. Famous writer of Bengal, Syed Mustafa Siraj has compared
Nilkantha Pakhir Khonje with Greek tragedies and also found it tuned with the core spirit of Bengali literature like Bibhutibhusan
Bandyopadhyaya’s Pather Panchalii. Even in short stories he has excelled in his representation of the pangs of partition.
The story, which is our point of discussion, was originally written as Kafir in Bengali which has recently been translated by
Rani Ray as Infidel’. Through the questioning of religious identity and faith in one’s God the short story brings to the fore the basic
questions of faith and faithlessness scoffing at the politicized concepts of religion that always result in rift, rancor and revenge. The
story involving a few village folks and their unsuccessful struggle to survive and protect one another presents before us a bigger and
more universal aspect of human antagonism that the world has been witnessing since time immemorial.
The story encapsulates the essence of partition highlighting the agony of detachment from the soil, the known people, place
and atmosphere. Set in times of the brutal inhuman killings of Noakhali in East Bengal the story delves deep into the psyche of the
readers through a very realistic presentation of disorientation and displacement in the plea of religion and national identity.
Historically the Noakhali riot was a series of massacres, rapes, abductions and forced conversions of Hindus and looting of
properties. It affected areas under the Ramganj, Begumganj, Raipur, Lakshmipur, Chhagalnaiya, Sandip Police Stations in Tipperah
district, a total area of more than 2000 square miles.ii
Noakhali carnage happened due to several reasons. One of them was the need of Muslim vengeance to defeat in the Great
Calcutta Killing. On October 10, 1946, the pogrom started with the rabble rousing speech of Gulam Sarowar, an ex M.L.A of Muslim
League at Begumganj Bazar. It was a dreadful anti-Hindu speech in which he quoted several verses of The Holy Quran to incite
Muslims to kill the ‘Kafirs’ and idolaters. This was followed by violent assaults of Muslim mobs on Hindus.iii
The story questions the definition of ‘Kafir’ and the need to have a religious identity amidst this turmoil. It shows how a
syncretic society of interdependence is getting apart. Through suspicion, fear and intimidation of common people the writer brings to
the fore the ground reality of simple people affected by the pangs of partition. The story deals with the universal theme of love,
brotherhood, loss, separation and identity.
It showcases the story of Paran, a Hindu middle aged man, trying to save himself taking the help of his friend Hashim to
come to safety. Paran was in search of his wife Kironi. Everybody was clearing out, holding on to dear life. It was almost an
obligation. The plight and helplessness of Paran becomes an irony of the situation. Paran says Save my life Hashim, or kill me if
that’s what you want. I can’t put up with this anymore.”iv The question of tolerating the agony has been raised most blatantly, not by
any political orator, but by a simple character like Paran who represents humanity at large. People like Paran are never aware of
political developments, their world being confined to mere domestic settings with little needs and duties. They are always on the
receiving end whenever the world witnesses any great social, political or religious upheavals.
This story of Paran is synonymous to the human tragedy of communities that experienced rootlessness. Millions of refugees
of the world of the past and the present reiterate with Paran the same story of the pain of being rootless. Paran in the story is thus
representative of all the homeless people in Northern Ireland, Israel, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Myanmar and many other
places.
The help of Hashim and his wife Jubeida at the risk of their own lives reaffirms the glowing human values. However the
ironic observation of the writer in describing the death of Ismat Ali is poignant. Ismat Ali was killed in trying to save many Hindu
people by keeping them hidden in a school room. The writer says Ali was lying on his back on the grounds, with his face up,
counting the numerous stars and planets in the sky, perhaps!v
Paran’s endeavour to escape by keeping himself immersed under water is symbolic of suffocation and futility of existence.
The analogy of Paran to a deep- wa te r fish that spreads its fins to come up to the surface somewhat equates human beings to
fishes. It is unnatural but befitting to the conditions of the time. The description of the riot-torn village is really poignant - the horse in
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127
the landlord’s stable had lapsed into silence. They were dead. But the hoarse cries, full of coarse and vicious words, filled the air.
Innocent men and women were being burnt alive the smell of damp, scorched flesh hovered above the ground, above the cowshed.
Flocks of pigeons flew above the minarets of darkness: they were winging their way to extended grassland that lay beyond the river.”vi
The description has a picaresque quality that brings in a strange contrast of the natural with the unnatural.
The “Inshallah” (If Allah wills it) of Hashim at the beginning of the journey to save Paran affirms their faith in the essential
goodness of religion. The irony of the situation cannot be overlooked as the journey will be unfruitful. The futility of human identity is
also shown when Paran tries to memorize his Muslim names of Mohammad Idris or Mohammad Immanullah to save himself. The
writer has observed that It was a dark time for humanity. Religion had no meaning for anyone: no one was inclined to follow its
tenets. Intense hatred overran the entire area, consumed it like a poisonous serpent.”vii However, the question of religiosity comes to
the fore when Hashim considers the venture of saving Paran’s life to the most sacred pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. “He was really
on a pilgrimage now, travelling to Mecca and Medina, places of love where there was no difference between human beings. Everybody
was Allah’s creature and deserved human compassion. It would have been a sin to prevent anybody from staying alive. Hashim had
begun his journey to Mecca and Medina below him was the winter cold water with only a vessel floating on its surface.”viii
The reference of Mecca and Medina brings a new dimension to the story, the place being the most sacred to the Muslims.
The visit to these places is one of the five tenets of Islam. The equation of the venture of saving the life of Paran and the visiting
of Mecca and Medina echoes a verse of The Holy Quran (Chapter 5, Verse 32) that says that saving one innocent life is equal to saving
the whole humanity. The irony lies in the fact that it is the same Quran that was used by Gulam Sarowar to instigate people to kill
Hindus. In this way the writer is perhaps trying to shift focus from religion to the true Faith.
However, at the end, the exposure of their plan resulting in the death of Paran shows the futility of the efforts of Hashim. The
writer did not overdo it in depicting reality. The death was obvious. The death was not of Paran, but of humanity. However, the effort
of Hashim to save himself from the murderers of Paran to do away with the stigma of a ‘Kafir’ is the most thought-provoking action
that questions our conscience on the validity of the human dimension of the term ‘Kafir’. We could have easily remained kafirs for our
brothers and sisters, for our country, for humanity, for love.
References:
i Ishwarer Bagan by Atin Bandopadhaya, 1st Combined Edition, Karuna Prakashani, Kolkata, October 2000.
ii Sinha, Dinesh Chandra, Ashok (1st January,2011). 1946: The Great Calcutta Killing and the Noakhali Genocide, PDF (First
Edition). Kolkata.
iii The Statesman, 16.10.1946.
iv Mapmaking Partition Stories From Two Bengals, ed by Debjani Sengupta, 1st Edition 2011, Page 76.
v Mapmaking Partition Stories From Two Bengals, ed by Debjani Sengupta, 1st Edition 2011, Page 77
vi Mapmaking Partition Stories From Two Bengals, ed by Debjani Sengupta, 1st Edition 2011, Page 78
vii Mapmaking Partition Stories From Two Bengals, ed by Debjani Sengupta, 1st Edition 2011, Page 80
viii Mapmaking Partition Stories From Two Bengals, ed by Debjani Sengupta, 1st Edition 2011, Page 81
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