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RAJEEV KHANNA | 15 AUGUST, 2015

What It’s Like To Live With The Burden Of Partition

Happy Independence Day


It is independence day, an occasion that has once again set me thinking. For I belong to the third generation of a family still bearing the burden of partition.

Ever since I can remember, the word ‘Pakistan’ has been an integral part of the family discourse. It has always been looked at as a historical phenomenon that continues to have a psychological bearing on the family and gets manifested in different ways.

My grandparents had migrated from Rawalpindi in those days of communal madness. But the family managed to retain its sanity and the secular values throughout the ups and downs it has seen in the last 69 years.

The psychological and emotional link to the land that they left behind remains to be severed. My grandmother died last September at the ripe old age of 102. Barring the last five months of her life, she communicated well with the members of the family and remembered the land where she grew up before the family was forced to migrate.

I keep on wondering at many small things. Why was it that my grandmother did not allow us to dispose off the tawa used for making chappatis that she had carried with her from Rawalpindi ?

Was it an emotional attachment to that iron implement or was it a symbol of the hardships that she had borne after being dislodged? Why has nobody in the family ever thought of throwing away that old pair of scissors that still has the name of its manufacturer in Lahore boldly embossed on it ? The family also retains a small brass vessel that was brought along for storing milk?

My house also retains that small green box that the family had carried all the way from Rawalpindi with whatever little belongings they could gather while fleeing? My grandfather had kept it for storing his papers till he died in 1995 and it still remains.

I grew up listening to tales of Pakistan from my grandparents. While my grandfather often talked of his growing up years and his jobs at Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Attock, Lahore and Murree, my semi-literate grandmother talked of frequent trips to Nankana Sahib, her learning the alphabet from a Maulvi, the dry fruits that my grandfather brought from Peshawar etc.

Till his dying day, my grandfather had the writings of the Sufis on his tips. He was always ready with anecdotes and quotes from Nanak, Bulle Shah and Baba Farid. He never talked of communal riots during partition. Whenever questioned, he would say, “People are never bad, times are bad.” On the innocent questions of who killed whom and where, he would say that those in majority killed those in minority in a fit of madness across the subcontinent.

The fact that partition had haunted him was the most evident on the day Babri Mosque was demolished by the Hindu right wing. I had never seen him more furious than on that day. I still recall his words at the time we heard the headlines on Doordarshan news. “It’s a black day in Indian history….a day to hang our heads in shame. First they saw to it that the country was divided and now they have done this.”

The granny too looked at things from the prism of Pakistan. On one occasion when I told her that I had quit my job, this woman in her late nineties, kept quiet for a while before saying in chaste Punjabi from Pakistani Punjab, “Do not worry. Leaving just a job should not bother you. We left everything in Pakistan and have survived. You will also get a new job.” Perhaps that was the spirit that came from the hardships of partition.

Till date, some of us friends have been discussing the decision of the political leadership and the role played by religious fanatics to bifurcate the country. A friend whose family migrated to Delhi from Borisal in East Pakistan often says, ”They must be mad. How could they take a decision in one stroke that led to millions of people leaving their homes, hearths, clothes, utensils, other belongings, language, culture….everything at one go and move to an unknown destination. Today if a person is transferred out to a new destination along with all the official benefits, he raises a noise. And there were millions moving to unknown destinations at that time.”

I was recently touched by a gesture from an unknown Pakistani in cyberspace. A couple of years ago I had written a comment to a Pakistani friend on Facebook about my family hailing from Rawalpindi and my grandmother often remembering the locality of Mohanpura where she had lived. This unknown person read the comment and wrote back to me saying that if I could get the exact location from her, he would e-mail me some of the pictures of the locality. But my granny was too old to give exact details besides being hard of hearing. But the gesture was touching and commendable.

With that generation gone, my father and I still live with those small little articles that the family had brought from there. When we are asked about our native place during the first round of introductions with strangers, he often jokes, “I am a foreigner from Pakistan.”

Many eyebrows are raised when he writes Rawalpindi as his place of birth in various forms. At times officials get perplexed at this. But yes, Pakistan continues to be a part of our lives even though I have never visited it. Given a chance, I would definitely want to see the land whose tales I grew up hearing.

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