Last night, my husband, a group of his friends and I went to see a production of “Parts of Parts & Stitches,” a magical realism play by Riti Sachdeva on the horrors of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
A joyous, colorful occasion, a wedding day in the Punjab region, 1947, the patchwork of two families eager with anticipation for their pending unification. In PARTS OF PARTS & STITCHES, Yamuna and Jiwan prepare for their lives and future together in a small village of what is soon to become Pakistan. Soon after the couple celebrates their matrimony, the reality of the political and religious upheaval forced on the country by Britain’s abandonment, becomes apparent. The violence of man against man, erupts in a horrific massacre. With perseverance and a will to survive, Yamuna desperately attempts to stitch back the pieces of her life.
I thought it was a very good play, and well-performed. My companions were put off by the fact that the lead actress was not Indian and her attempt at the accent fell short. I am not Indian, and it is harder for me to pick up on nuances like that. The play was intense and really gut-wrenching at times. The violence and trauma of Partition was very real for so many people. I remember reading about it in City of Djinns by William Dalrymple and just being horrified. Even the floor of the stage had a stitched line running across it, separating it clean across into two. The play claimed that Partition was responsible for the slaughter of as many as 1 million people. So hard to believe. Could such a thing be possible?
I spent much of the play thinking about my in-laws and what their family went through during Partition – one side being displaced from the Punjab, and the other displaced from what is now Bangladesh. Even though they survived, what terrible pain and tragedy they endured. Many of the play’s characters said, “We will leave for now to be safe, but we will come back when it is all over.” But of course, they didn’t. Couldn’t. Can you imagine having to uproot everything and run for your lives overnight?
Riti Sachdeva’s use of vultures (as characters) struck me as perhaps the most interesting. The vultures set the stage and serve as the backdrop for all of the bloody action. They are ominous and hang about; you can’t be rid of them.
The playwright says, “I did extensive oral histories with relatives who are survivors of partition. I’ve read dozens of books and articles, watched movies, listened to music. I’ve had a number of conversations and debates over the last twenty years with all kinds of people about partition and its impact. I listen to the stories my papa tells me when we’re just kicking back, no tape recorder. […] [The play] will resonate because we are in the millions—the children and grandchildren of the people who did or did not survive the partition and we are commemorating its 65th anniversary this year. The displacement is part of our legacy along with the work to resist the dividing rhetoric and policies. I can’t tell you the number of people I meet whose elders were refugees on both sides of the border. It’ll resonate because when we take an honest, quiet, guiltless look around at who are our friends, communities, lovers, neighbors, co-workers, collaborators, prisoners, employers, employees—what we see is an apartheid of our very own, right here and now.”