The Creative Section (Vol. 5, No. 1) is on its way and will be published by the end of May, 2024.

Partition as a Drama of Human Pain and Suffering: A Study of Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column


Partition as a Drama of Human Pain and Suffering: A Study of Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column


Sahadev Roy

State Aided College Teacher

Department of English

Dewanhat Mahavidyalaya

Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India


Ph. D. Research Scholar

Department of English

O.P.J.S. University

Churu, Rajasthan, India




The principal object of the present study is entitled; Partition: A saga of pain in the Indian English novel.” A study is undertaken to study it critically. The attainment of Indian freedom was followed by the tragic drama of partition. It was the darkest event in the history of India, which shook the whole nation into disgust and hatred. Partition and its impact are realistically reflected in literature. In Indian English fiction many writers portrayed the politics and partition butchery. An attempt has been made to signify a novel of Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column. This paper explores the characters’ various perspectives on the partition which leads to the writer’s representation of freedom and individuality. In addition, the study of this novel brings out different critics. A critical study is undertaken to seek and discover the several complexities, the effect of partition on the creative psyche, and layers of meaning in Partition: A saga of pain in an Indian English novel during independence.


Keywords: Partition, Politics, Pain, Postcolonialism, Indian English Novel


The majority of the new colonies were attempting to build their nationhood and the postcolonialist genre while the British Empire was disintegrating and heading towards its demise. One nation, however, was going through a dual process of forming and breaking. India answered. India and Pakistan's history began with the split in 1947. This partition eventually becomes a part of the genre of postcolonial literature. Several works regarding partition are there which present the trauma of two nations, India and Pakistan. The time before the partition was the time when Hindus and Muslims were the only Indians. There were no conflicts; they lived together in one country. But the decline of the British Empire brought a historical event, which was Partition. The demise of the British Empire sparked a completely distinct phenomenon that changed the entire topography of this region of the world. Numerous violent riots, protests, and family divisions result from India's division into Pakistan and India, two independent countries. The present study is undertaken to critically study it. Partition was the darkest event in the history of India, which tortured a whole nation into disgust and hatred. In Indian English fiction, many writers presented politics and partition butchery. It concentrates on the partition and other painful events. This study is an attempt to signify the novel of Attaia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column. The study of this novel brings out different critics to seek and discover the several complexities, and effects of partition during independence.


As a post-colonial Indian writer, Attia Hosain has written about India's social, cultural, and political changes in Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961). Hosain presents the colonial world as a perfectly framed picture, belonging to the past, which can be revived through nostalgia. The women's characters are portrayed against the backdrop of Muslim feudal culture, and the sunlight on a shattered column depicts the period of political unrest. The novel begins in the 1930s, Lucknow when the narrator heroine Laila is fifteen. The novel contains four parts and in each part, Laila narrates her story, a story of pain, time, and memories. The story is both a post-independence bildungsroman and a retrospective account of India during the 1930s and 40s. Laila observes and experiences the effect of the conflict between contact culture and indigenous culture on the women around her. Laila differs from the other female family members because she observes the patriarchal structure of the household (Ashiana). Her education and her book world make her a different personality who observes things and compares them with the situation. In Sunlight on a Broken Column, colonialism, feudalism, and Islam are bound together.


Hosain presents a time when the political disturbance was at its peak. This novel sets in the 1930s, pre-independence, it shows the memory of sorrow and nostalgia through the protagonist Laila. An orphaned girl who lives in Ashiana with her family. Hosain presents her characters in a very lively manner her characters are individualized yet universal. Hosain conveys the personal and political turmoil that marked the partition of India through the coincidental dissolution of the Muslim landholding and feudal lifestyle. She talks about religion which leads to the problem of communal riots. Pre-independence was the time when everyone was fighting for individuation and identity. Hosain presents PAIN through Laila and with other characters. Attia Hosain's Sunlight on a Broken Column is introduced by Anita Desai, who calls the book a tribute to the past.


This disruption is most appropriate as Hosain’s novel takes us into the fascinating world of the landowning class of the taluqdars in colonial India. She talks about nation and nationality. She described the social class and taluqdars of Oudh, before the British and how they brought a change in the society. After their arrival suppression and problems started. On one side, the younger generation trying hard to get freedom for the country, and on the other side, the elders show authority in the old joint family that has traditionally dominated Indian life.


In view of Ronald Morton: this book, in great part, is about boundaries (specifically those in pre-partition India) boundaries between children and their elders; boundaries between Hindus and Muslims; boundaries between Indians and the British; boundaries between rich and poor, and intertwined into these boundaries, the overarching boundaries between men and women. (Ronald Morton 2016)


Sunlight on a Broken Column can be seen in boundaries according to Morton. Laila’s own life and her elders' life are different. She lives in an upper-class Muslim family where purdah (veil) is important for women. This tradition of Islam creates boundaries between men and women but religion cannot be questioned according to elders. Laila's education (which should not be given to girls in some orthodox) and her free thinking make her an introvert she realizes how women were marginalized around her in the same house but no one can raise her voice against patriarchy because it was the rule, the male dominance.


According to Jasbir Jain, “Ashiana in Sunlight on a Broken Column serves as a microcosm of the world at large with not only its womenfolk in purdah but its retinue of servants who represent the community at large. The novel opens with a description of the home's cramped atmosphere; Baba Jan, my grandfather, had been ill for three months and the sick air, seeping and spreading through the straggling house, weighed each day more oppressively on those

who lived in it.” (Hosain 14) Hosain offers many arguments for and against the nation's approaching vivisection. Saleem and Aunt Saira stand for opposing views on the partition or Pakistan's demands. While defending his ties to the Muslim League, Saleem says the following: “I believe the Congress has a strong anti-Muslim element in it against which the Muslims must organize. The danger is great because it is hidden, like an iceberg. When it was just a question of fighting the British the progressive forces were uppermost; but now that power is to be acquired, now the submerged reactionary elements will surface. Muslims must unite against them.” (Hosain 233) He goes on: “The majority of Hindus have not forgotten or forgiven the Muslims for having ruled over them for hundreds of years. Now they can democratically take revenge. The British have ruled about two hundred years, and see how much they are hated.” (Hosain 234) To which Aunt Saira adds: “Oh dear, there is no question, it would be better to have the British stay on than the Hindus ruling.” (Hosain 234)


Saleem and Aunt Saira's opinions aligned with those of the vast majority of Muslims who chose Pakistan. Saleem is depicted by Hosain as a young lad who fears for both his freedom and his religion. He wants to create a new Muslim-only neighborhood. It demonstrates that the suspicions of Muslims were not unfounded. On the other hand, figures like uncle Hamid and Kemal have their views for a distinct state. They had well-reasoned reasons in support of their demand for Pakistan. As for Kemal: “This is my country. I belong to it. I love it. That is all. One does not bargain…” (Hosain 287)


Kemal wants to be in India, his born place. Where his ancestors and family had been living. A virtual division emerges in Laila's own home as a result of their different decisions. In great detail, the story depicts the traditional way of life of Muslims in India. The folks it described were firmly anchored in the ground. There was a lot of political unrest at the time. Processions and parades started to appear often in the streets of Lucknow. Muslims came out on the streets and demanded freedom in the name of genuine nationalism. The processions for freedom were dangerous to the aged ladies, who were worried about the safety of their dear ones. Aunt Majida lamented the activities of young ones and wailed: “What has happened to young people nowadays? Why must they go looking for trouble?” (Hosain 162) Hakiman bua described the rationale behind the hectic activities: “They have cats tied to their feet, they cannot sit still.” (Hosain 162)


When religion entered politics, everything became problematic. Hosain recognizes the divide-and-conquer strategy used by the British in these terrible events. When Asad discusses the British encouraging and aiding the sectarian and deadly riots with Zahid in the opening section of the book, Asad makes this point extremely vividly. Zahid believed that Sunnis were cursed by the Shias. Asad said without hesitation: “He has learned the lesson the English teach us. Hate each other – love us.” (Hosain 56)


Asad made it explicitly clear that the British wanted division. Hosain demonstrates how the British contributed to the division of the Indians. However, they were not the only ones to blame. It was the influence of religion that entered politics and everything became worst. People's beliefs were in danger they lost their peace and humanity. Envy, rage, hatred, and the desire to harm the other community were the prevalent emotions as the environment got tense and bustled with heated disputes. Communal riots were started, and traditional Lucknow was completely lost. Laila worries about family: “No one seemed to talk any more; everyone argued, and not in the graceful tradition of our city where conversation was treated as a fine art, words were loved as mediums of artistic expression, and verbal battles were enjoyed as much as any delicate, scintillating, sparkling display of pyrotechnic skill. It was as if someone had sneaked in live ammunition among the fireworks. In the thrust and parry there was a desire to inflict wounds.” (Hosain 230)


Hosain presents tension among the family members because of different views on partition/freedom. Uncle Hamid and his son Saleem got into a furious debate about politics after they entered the affluent home. They were placed in opposing groups. Uncle Hamid scoffed at the Muslim League and stated to Saleem: “This Muslim league in which you are so interested, I have heard it called communal and reactionary by nationalist Muslims. Certainly most of its leaders—and many are my friends—are of the kind you would call ‘reactionary’, according to your political theories.” (Hosain 233) Saleem responded aggressively and said that there were anti-Muslim factions in congress. The father and son's quarrel resulted in a rage outburst. Everything was happening and the reason was separation, freedom, and politics. Elections were there and parties wanted the power. These terrible events were taking place and families were breaking, the separation or say the fear of detachment was very horrifying.


Laila experiences all the fears, unhappiness, and marginalization throughout her childhood to adulthood. A Muslim family, upper-class society, political upheavals, bloody riots, and most important culture and tradition. Laila's views are different from other female members of the house. In contrast, Zahra has grown up internalizing the expectations of being a loving wife and an unmarried girl. Uncle Mohsin praises her upbringing and schooling as being wise and correct. She is equipped to carry out the patriarchal obligations placed upon women by her education and upbringing. “She has read the Quaran, she knows her religious duties; she can sew and cook, and at the Muslim school she learned a little English, which is what young men want now.” (Hosain 24)


Sita, on the other hand, loves Kemal but views their relationship as a private matter as opposed to their marriage because of their differing religious backgrounds. She supports arranged marriages because, in her opinion, her parents are the best arbiters of a man's suitability as a husband. As stated by Sita: “What has love to do with marriage? It is like mixing oil and water. Love is anti-social, while matrimony preserves the world and its respectability.” (Hosain 296) Against Sita's views on marriage and love, Laila's marriage to Ameer supports the idea that a woman should be able to wed the man she chooses, but doing so comes with a high price and her family's displeasure. Her marriage to Ameer presents her free thinking and ability to choose and decide. She flouts the norms of the patriarchal setup. Laila shows the idea of love and innocence: “The word ‘love’ was like a bomb thrown at them.” (Hosain 134) The fourth half of the story illustrates how the division of the country affected a family of four who was living in a nest-like home in Lucknow far from Saleem and Nadira, who chose to move to Pakistan, while Kemal chose to remain in India. Evidently, the split had a significant negative impact on people's life. In this part of the book, Hosain depicts Laila's yearning for the past. Laila travels to Ashiana, the location of many memorable moments. As she clarified: “My most private emotions were contained by this house, as much a part of its structure as its every brick and beam. Its memories condensed my life as in a summary.” (Hosain 272) Laila finds strangeness in the house where she lived, spent a good time, and made good memories. But everything changed when strangers began to be classified as refugees; her relative Saleem, who chose Pakistan, was suddenly referred to as an evacuee. Her memory takes her to the past. She touches the things of the house which were not alive as there were fourteen years ago. The novelist was completely engrossed in the upheavals that the partition brought about Zahid’s death, violence, and death of loved ones. All these memories bring tears to Laila's eyes.


A Muslim interpretation of division is presented by Attia Hosain in Sunlight on a Broken Column. She continues the narrative with notable incidents and demonstrates that joining the national movements for freedom has little to do with one's community; rather, it was the introduction of religion into politics that poisoned the minds of millions. The narrator heroine Laila, who recounts the horror of division via her memories, gives the book a feminine perspective. It's one of the rare novels on the partition that manages to convey the trauma of the separation with tremendous understanding while still being well-written. Through her book, Hosain strongly urges readers to reject hatred and violence in favor of the ideology of love and nonviolence. We can see this in Laila's life and through her nostalgic memories, where Laila faces each problem strongly.


Works Cited


n.d. <>.


Abbas, K.A. I am not an island: An Experiment in Autobiography. Delhi, 1977.


Al-wazedi, Umme sadat nazmun nahar. "MOTHERLANDS OF THE MINDS." The keep (2003).


Charles, Hector. Patriarchy, feudalism and colonialism in Sunlight in a broken column. n.d. <>.


Hosain, Attia. Sunlight on a Broken Column. Lucknow: Penguin Books India, 1961.


Morton, Ronald. n.d. <>.


Naziya. "History versus fiction: Historical and literary representation of partition." An International Journal in English (2013).


Siddiqui, Fatima. The world that was...A cultural study of Attia Hosain's sunlight on a broken column. n.d. <>.