Konrad Lawson of Muninn is too good a fieldworker to be a historian. Here are a few snippets of his account of a conversation with a Punjabi Sikh convenience store owner in Madison, Wisconsin, where he attended a conference on political trauma.
Hardeep gave me his own ten minute version of the partition [of India in 1947], which I will condense and roughly paraphrase, “The partition led to the unnecessary death of about a million people. It was the fault of three of the biggest fools of the 20th century, Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah. Lord Mountbatten warned them that this partition was crazy. It is like all of the Americans moving to Canada and all of the Canadians moving to the United States. Gandhi was an idiot who did not know the minds of the people. Jinnah was a troublemaker, and he refused an offer of the presidency. You know what I think? I think Gandhi and Nehru should have killed Jinnah, killing one man would have saved a million and there would have been no partition.”
I confessed that I knew close to nothing about Indian history but I was curious why 1) he didn’t seem to blame the English for anything at all. 2) Wouldn’t killing Jinnah have inflamed muslim sentiment and generated even more religious violence? To the former, Hardeep felt that, “The British gave us English and an education. They are the reason why India is so great today and there are Indians all over the world. Why the fuck should I care who is in charge as long as they are a real leader. The British were leaders – a leader can tell when something will be a disaster, Lord Mountbatten knew that partition would be a disaster.” Apologists for the imperial civilizing mission would have approved. In response to the latter issue he said, “Are you kidding me? You don’t understand India. I come from a small village. We didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on in the next village and it is the same all across India. If they had killed him at the right opportunity, most of India would have never known better.”…
I didn’t agree with much of what my new friend had to say but the conversation, which involved much more than what I have reproduced here, was very educational. Even if I found many of his views objectionable, and his generalizations and dismissals problematic, I was fascinated by the interesting combination of views he entertained and a particular kind of logic which he was perfectly at ease in deploying. He was adept at applying his religious and philosophical principles to any and all situations. On the other hand, nothing seemed sacred or absolute to him, and sometimes I couldn’t help getting the impression that he was consciously mocking his own his positions even as he defended them, a highly unusual blend of articulate conviction and perpetually ironic delivery.
Very educational, indeed. And entertaining.