In 1934, 13 years before the British withdrew from the subcontinent, a group of Indian writers met at a London hotel with a Chinese name. Among those attending the meeting at the Nanking hotel were people who wrote in Urdu, English, and Bengali, and together they drafted a manifesto for a future Indian literature, one that would locate writing at the heart of social change.
The Progressive Writers’ Association, the group formed at that meeting, could not have foreseen the extent of the social change that would face their members in the coming decades.
Some writers were forced to take on new nationalities as their homeland was violently divided. Ahmed Ali, author of the novel Twilight in Delhi, was coming back to India from China in 1947. He found himself unable to disembark at Delhi and had to fly on to Karachi and a new life as a Pakistani. Sahir Ludhianvi, a poet whose lyrics found a mass audience through Bombay films, made the journey in the opposite direction, moving from Pakistan to India in 1949. Almost all the writers of the PWA discovered that the post-colonial nations they had wrested from the empire were only nominally free, still divided by hierarchies of power and wealth.
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