Mahima Mukherjee reviews Bhisham Sahni’s masterpiece Tamas and calls it a riveting story which highlights the havoc that communal violence can wreak.
Bhisham Sahni was an Indian author, playwright and actor, who was born in Rawalpindi in present-day Pakistan. He completed a Master’s degree in English literature from the Lahore Government College, and after that became involved with the Indian National Congress. After the Partition, he settled in Delhi and began to teach at a Delhi University college. Over the years he has written many novels, short stories and plays, and many of his works have been translated into various foreign and Indian languages. He was awarded the Sahitya Academy Award for his magnum opus Tamas in 1976 and the Padma Bhushan for literature in 1998.
When colonial India was nearing its Independence and the accompanying Partition, the atmosphere among religious communities, especially the Hindus and Muslims, was that of tension and suspicion. People who had lived in harmony for eons started to feel detached from their neighbours of another religion owing to the seeds of communal tensions sown by the British’s Divide and Rule policy. An intense ‘Othering’ began to raise its viscous head, and a person’s religious affiliation became the rudimentary aspect of their identity.