Salt of the Sarkar Video Series: Part Two
Panjab 1947: A Heart Divided

This post was written by Caroline Goffin. Caroline is co-director, with Dominic Rai, of Salt of the Sarkar.

THE LONG VIEW – the roots of Salt of the Sarkar and the Partition of India in 1947
(The video links below, open in separate tabs)


Caroline Goffin. Picture credit John Whitfield 2016


I love looking at the LONG VIEW and seeing the hidden roots below ground of what is happening currently.


As Dominic and I focus on Salt of the Sarkar, and the Illustrated edition of Across the Black Waters set in the First World War of 1914-18, the media have been focusing on the PARTITION OF INDIA 70 years ago.


The sepoys in Across the Black Waters came from Undivided India. Partition changed everything. It has been an important strand in our work from the beginning. And so as we focus on the First World War experience of the characters in the novel, and the real life soldiers they represent, we are aware that the world they knew would change forever in 1947.


This history was little known to me and I could never have imagined what lay ahead when I decided in April 1993 to venture to my local community centre for an Open Evening to explore the potential of a course advertised as AN INTRODUCTION TO SPOKEN HINDI & URDU THROUGH MUSIC & ART – Tutor: Dominic Rai. Little did I know that I would soon be beginning to learn a language, taught in a very creative way, that crossed boundaries and, as I only recently realised, was the core language of the Indian Army before the Partition of India.


Following the 12-week course I attended a rehearsal for the play VOICES being performed initially for Black History Month that year in Lewisham. I came face to face with an Indian soldier in the trenches of the Western Front in World War One for the first time, discovered this hidden history, and became involved at the start of n Melá Theatre Company, founded to celebrate the British Asian experience through exciting and challenging theatre.


Now as I look back I can see that, although not always mentioned directly, the pain of the division that happened in 1947 when India was partitioned, and the desire to build bridges across the divide has been underlying much of our work since that time.


Gurbakhsh and Ruth Garcha are two of our close associates from 1993 and this theme of the PARTITION OF INDIA has resonated with them, especially as Gurbakhsh is a first-hand witness of what happened. Gurbakhsh has recently been involved in the BBC Radio 4 programmes PARTITION VOICES, and also took part in the discussions on NEWSNIGHT SPECIAL – PARTITION 70 YEARS ON. Dominic and I were privileged to be his guests for the recording of this at Broadcasting House on 15 August. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk to other inspirational participants in the recent BBC radio and television programmes which you can view here:


Gurbakhsh Garcha. Panjabi Mehfil in Lewisham Town Hall on 19 October 1996. Picture credit: Mán Melá Theatre Company


My first memory of Gurbakhsh was as a poet at our PANJABI MEHFILS which brought those of Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, Christian backgrounds together across the divisions to share their poems, music, culture and food.


One of the other poets taking part in the Mehfils later on was Mazhar Tirmazi, whose play in Panjabi, A LIFETIME ON TIPTOES was a response to his mother’s trauma in leaving her home in East Panjab in 1947. Involvement in the development of this lasted a number of years. Gurbakhsh and Ruth Garcha contributed by translating the play into English which was completed in 2006. Later a translation was made into Welsh by Menna Elfyn and the three translations with background notes are available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle:


A special highlight during this period of focusing on Partition was a reading of A LIFETIME ON TIPTOES in November 2006 hosted by the Panjabis in Britain All Party Parliamentary Group chaired by John McDonnell MP. This was held in the Palace of Westminster in the Gladstone Room, where the Partition of India was debated 60 years earlier. The room was filled with many who had direct experience of Partition or came from families who had. As well as discussing and sharing what happened, there was a moving two-minute silent commemoration for the millions who were killed or suffered in the violence.




TOBA TEK SINGH-THE EXCHANGE OF LUNATICS based on the short story by Saadat Hasan Manto about the exchange made at the Wagah Border crossing just after Partition of Hindu and Sikh inmates of the Lahore asylum with Muslims resident in asylums in India. We first featured work by Manto in April 1994 in our first anniversary event Mán Melá, Manto and a Meal.


AZADI – THE STORY OF FREEDOM commemorating the 50th anniversary of Partition with performances in London in September-October 1997, and then a more extensive UK tour in the Spring of 1998. “The multi media show features the work of writers who have dazzled the international literary scene as well as the work of a younger generation of British Asian playwrights.”




As Dominic and I continue on with our work relating to Mulk Raj Anand’s novel set in 1914 we are aware that it is set in the context of the history of India as part of the British Empire in the first half of the 20th century.


Mulk Raj Anand 1905-2004 spanned the entire 20th Century. He met the sepoys as a teenager when they returned to India from World War One. He vowed to tell their story. Like them he travelled to Europe as a young man. He lived in Britain for around 20 years and got to know all the literary greats of the 1930s and 1940s in London. He published his novel Across the Black Waters in London in 1940, at the start of World War Two, as part of a trilogy. The first book, The Village, tells of the world he and the sepoys grew up in. The final novel, The Sword and the Sickle, moves back to India and the context of the Freedom Movement.  History was moving ever closer to the moment of Independence and the Partition of India as Word War Two came to an end in 1945, and Mulk himself moved back to live permanently in India.


You can imagine how delighted we were when the BBC website produced a page advertising their programmes and included a featured link to PANJAB 1947: A HEART DIVIDED on The National Archives website which highlights interviews organised by Dominic of four Panjabi elders who lived through Partition. The four chosen were Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian.


Please do take a look at these four video interviews:


Panjabi 1947: A House Divided (participants Reginald Massey, Tilak Raj, Jaswant Singh and Mohammed Javed). Picture credit John Whitfield 2010