This is one of two excerpts from a long single poem in twenty parts, 'At the Time of Partition'. My grandmother, a widow, made the journey with, initially, five of her children, from Ludhiana in India, to Lahore, in the newly created Pakistan. Her eldest son, Ute, a young man who suffered brain damage as a result of a childhood accident, disappeared at that time, never to be found again: the fate of many vulnerable adults and children. The line of partition was drawn up so arbitrarily by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, it was often referred to as the 'Radcliffe Line.'
At the Time of Partition (extract 1)
1. The Line
A line so delicate a sparrow might have
picked it up in its beak.
Not an artist’s line, or a line of writing.
A line between birth and non-being.
A line that would mean death for so many.
The land itself at its calmest and most dignified
yielded to the line, lay still –
it didn’t know what was coming.
India – and ‘Pakistan’:
the countries required their boundaries
as the thirsty needed water,
the beggars their begging bowls.
The line was its own religion,
it seemed to have its own God.
It sliced through a village, cut a house in half.
Where to place it in all of reality?
from At the Time of Partition (Bloodaxe, 2013) Moniza Alvi 2013, used by permission of the author and the publisher