Saturday, October 24, 2009

Borders

Of the three communities that suffered the trauma of Partition the  most, I belong to one of them.

Though my grandfathers on both sides had come to India a few years before Independence, both had properties and firm roots in East Bengal. They used to refer to their native villages as "Desh" or homeland. My father's family went to the ''Desher Baari'' or the ancestral house to celebrate Durga Puja every year. But suddenly, one fine day in August, a hurriedly drawn line by some British gentlemen, told them that they could no longer go back to their homes again.

Displaced, landless, jobless, hoards of traumatic relatives reached my paternal grandfather's house. My grandfather's older brother, was so shattered by this forced migration that he never recovered from this shock. Along with his home, his livelihood and his sense of belonging, he also lost his mind.

My parents might not be true refugees,but my in-laws were not so fortunate. A single cruel blow of fate and both were left homeless. My mother in law at times, reluctantly and haltingly tells us how she, along with her siblings, had to hide in various places when the furious mob attacked the village. How, despite the tremendous hardship and resistance, the family decided to stay back for another year just because her elder brother was taking the matriculation exams. Leaving Dhaka would have meant discontinuing his studies as the family did not have the money to send him to school in India. There, in his school in Dhaka, he used to get a scholarship. Even now, she gets traumatised when she sees a crowd of people. In her mind, the friendly scores of people at Indian railway stations turn into hostile and angry mob out to attack her. She is not alone. In every household of East Bengal refugees, there are men and women like her, who still desperately try to suppress such painful memories. Along with these, they also try to suppress the memories of lush green fields, mango orchards, fishing in village ponds, numerous rivers and their scenic villages. Calcutta, with its numerous concrete houses, narrow bylanes, smoggy skies and so many people, never seem like home.

Growing up in Delhi, one could not ignore the existence of the Punjabi migrants who came as refugees to the national capital. Perhaps their story was the most violent. The mass exodus between the divided state saw countless deaths .Each one more painful than the other. The murders, rapes, and brutalities had gone on for months in the name of religion on both sides. I heard stories of ordinary men, like my tailor, the local grocer, the fathers of my friends. How they all travelled, loaded in trains and bullock carts,army trucks or on foot. Such a  long distance, without food, without water. Always in fear of their own neighbours who had suddenly turned into their sworn enemies.

I became  close to some Sindhi women only after coming to Bombay. Of the three communities, their loss perhaps is the  most unmeasured. They came into a country which was formed on linguistic lines. Here, they not only had no state, they had no one who spoke their language, no one who followed their tolerant Sufi belief, no one who followed their culture. After the trauma of losing their language, their culture, their territory, they also had to go through the indignity of hearing once that the word Sindh had no place in our national anthem as the said teritory  lay in a hostile nation. The house where I currently stay, belonged to a Sindhi lady. One afternoon, while chatting, I discovered her mother had crossed over to India when she was pregnant She got separated from her family in that chaotic period. All alone, at the age of nineteen, with a group of migrants, she travelled to Bombay by ship. From there, she went on to Madras, where her husband had found a job. Much later, through intensive search, she managed to locate her lost family.Even now, at the age of 80+,  this courageous lady stays there, all alone, after her husband's death. Her story, gave me goosebumps. I wondered what I would have done, if I were in her shoes.

 The rest of the Indians, who perhaps without thinking label the Punjabis as aggressive and pushy, the Sindhis as cunning and miserly, the Bengalis as timid and reluctant to leave their comfort zone, do they ever try to learn the psyche of these scarred people? I wonder.

No matter how much we try to shake it off, the past stays with us. No matter how much we say that the Partition is over and done with, it still continues to scar us.. As long as we have people still living with us who were directly impacted by this tragedy, it will continue to haunt us. And if we ever forget the trauma it caused,  there is a danger of this happening again.

I took my children to Amritsar to show them the Golden temple and the Wagah border this Diwali. At Wagah, I expected heart break and silence and found jubilation and Bhangra beats instead.. A synchronised show of mock hostility. Patriotic songs. Euphoric dances. A loud and passionate cry of Bharat Mata Ki Jai or Vande Mataram once in a while This was not the cry I had expected. This was not how I had imagined the border to be. I thought people would shed tears and lament. Light a candle for peace. Try to make sense of something that was so unnecessary. But this was almost a celebration. This brought laughter. What about the lives lost? Does anybody want to remember?

I looked around and saw most people in their 20s, to whom Partition meant nothing. The iron gates that stood between the two nations did not stir any passion. The people from the other side did not arouse any interest.

Perhaps this was better. We have come a long way since Independence. Unlike my parents' generation who always said India lost both her arms at the time of Independence, we have come to think of India as a whole nation and not as a fractured one. But what about the painful memories? How to heal them?

On my way back to the hotel, I kept on hearing my mother in law's voice in my mind. " Tui amake ekbaar Dhaka te niye jaabi? Amar boro dekhte ichha hoy" ( Will you take me to Dhaka once? I wish to see it one more time.)

 How do I describe the exaggerated  pomp and show that takes place in Wagah every day, to her? What will she think of this border? Will this ever make sense? Will she ever think the border is a happy place? I really do not know.

The India-Pakistan partition saw the largest migration in human history. Nearly 10 million people lost their homes. A million lost their lives.

Various  videos of the Wagah retreat ceremony are available on youtube.You can have a look if you are interested.


These are some of the images that our camera caught. The last shot is of the flock of birds that kept flying from one side to another. They, unlike us, knew the real meaning of freedom.




Pretty young things dancing on the GT Road, the highway to Lahore.



The Indian stand, looking at the show.



The border gates, dividing the nations.



The gates have opened.



Some ridiculous show of superiority I guess. You can see the Pakistanis on the other side.



Showing the thumb to the enemy?



The actual fence, electrified.



The birds.


50 comments:

Nona said...

Call me ignorant! I always associated Punjabis with the partition. Your post was very informative! Your mom-in-law's experience gave me goosebumps too!

Smita said...

This is a heart touching post!!!

The people who were really affected by partition really know how painful it actually was!!! For us it is a chapter in history!!!

I can not think of settling down in another country and when I think of the lives that you have described I get goose bumps!!!

PURN!MA said...

the incidents that u have described, seem unbelievable, since we haven't lived them. Nevertheless, this heart rendering post has lft me speechless!

Tomz said...

Welcome back.
I have only heard-knowledge about the pain suffered by the people who were victims of partition.
During my North India visit I went to Wagah boarder, where we shot the entire ceremony and we went close to the gate only at the end of the process when the gate was closed.
Though it was already night, I saw camera flashes everywhere from both sides. I too clicked that time.
And to express my feelings after reading your emotional post, I have no words.

RGB said...

Our memories of painful times are rather short lived. We tend to dust our shoes, shrug our shoulders and walk on. And to relate to someone else who's been through the pain, unless you've been through similar pain, is difficult to understand for many. My heart goes out to all these people. I think it's time we alter our perspectives and think as people of the world! Your post was very well written and very informative as well!

kavita said...

Aparna i am very well aware of these stories and the horror and trauma people had to face during partition.Assam has a very large number of East Bengal people who settled here after partition...I have many such patients who later became friends ...because of lengthy dental treatments we spend a lot of time together and in the process share many things ...most of them very elderly people (denture-patients) ,they share very painful stories that many can't even imagine....makes me wonder how one human can inflict so much pain and torture to another human being....these scars don't heal very easily.I understand every word and sentiment you have expressed here.
I hope you take your mother-in-law once to Dhaka ,i know you will.

blunt edges said...

the kind of post that leaves me with goosebumps!

"What about the lives lost? Does anybody want to remember?"
i personally think its best if noone remembers it. it just leads 2 more hatred n disappointment! i know it is impossible 4 someone who has actually gone through the drama, but wouldn't it be better if the younger generation doesn't dwell on it?

ps: the pic of the golden temple on the blog header is wondeful!

ZB said...

I have only read knowledge of the partition, but i can empathize with them. Its like suddenly you are told that you have to move from this place and go to a new country, where you have nothing, to start life new. Imagine moving your entire extended family out, leaving aside all your worth. It must be unimaginably painful. The land where your ancestors lived and died. It must be heartbreaking.

I think this unique pattern of exodus is unparalleled in history, and it will remain a legend by the sheer magnitude of human catastrophe.

BTW, congrats on the century(followers list). TC:))

J P Joshi said...

A very informative and interesting post. The pictures of Wagah border are beautiful.

My parents were affected by the partition of Punjab. My mother's story is one of hope and hopelessness... how they were helped by the Muslim neighbours and then how mobs wanted to destroy everything Hindu or Sikh until they reached Amritsar.

I just finished reading Khushwant Singh's "Train to Pakistan" - it gives one a fair idea of what actually happened. Noakhali and the Governor of Bengal were the starting points of this madness in which large numbers perished. This started in 1946 - Jinnah's call to Direct Action.

Mohan said...

Interesting read. It is certainly a dream pride for everyone to witness the highness of our forces! With so much of info, your post made me visualize the days of un-divided India!

Mustaf said...

I was aware of the Bengalis and the Punjabis, but did not know about the Sindhs. Even though we always lived in this side of river Padma, but I have heard stories from my friends.Your MIL's words just made my heart bit stopped for a while, so much pain, so much loneliness, so much eagerness in those few words...

And that association of the characters of these communities with their traumatic past was an eye opener for me.May be there is a reason why Bengalis are called homesick.Just thinking of leaving your eveyrthing in one night and starting everything afresh makes my knee shivering

Aditya said...

The best blog post I have read this month! It roused patriotic feelings in me :). I am ashamed to say that most of the info shared here was not known to me before :|

Thank a lot for this post and keep writing :)

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

It cannot be easy to feel other people's suffering in a distant time and place and to write about them. A wonderful, sensitive piece of writing. I must come back to your blog more often.

The Panorama said...

Very well written, Aparna. Although I have never had to deal with something as traumatic refugees have all over the world, I can empathise with them.
But working in a newspaper, I hear such sad stories almost everyday og refugees from Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine have to leave everything behind and start from a scratch all over again.

Your post made me really think. Loved it.

sujata said...

I loved the fact that you took the kids to amritsar and wagah. I mean to do that very soon. I also never expected the scene you described at wagah, very strange! what are they celebrating? Oh another random thought...do you think you and I will lose our minds with the breaking of the behala home?just like boro dadu lost his?we are on the verge anyways!!

Babli said...

Very beautiful and touching post with lovely pictures. Its very difficult to feel what other people have suffered in their life but I must say that I came to know lots of things from your post. Thanks for all the information and for the brilliant post.

Aparna said...

Hi every one, it is good to be back.

Nona, most people are not aware of the trauma experienced by the other two communities. Unlike the Punjab partition, there are not really as many books or movies on these people.

Smita, I too can not imagine leaving everything behind and go off to a strange place to start over. And to think they could not go back, even for a visit. Really sad.

Purnima, thanks a bunch. Since I have grown up listening to partition stories, it was easy for me to feel the pain.

Tomz, why don't you upload the video of the ceremony on youtube? May be all of us could see it.It is difficult to explain to readers what actually happens there.

RGB, thank you very much for your appreciation. When memories become too painful to handle, it is human nature to suppress them. But in order to truly forget, we have to remember.

Kavita, Unfortunately, even now, we seem not to have learned from the past and we go on inflicting pain and hatred on other communities.

Blunt edges, may be the young generation is right, but we should not be immune to the pain experienced by our previous generations. Then there is a danger of repeating the same mistakes.

ZB, imagine leaving your beloved Kerala! And imagine never being permitted to go back again. It is indeed sad that one needs a passport to go back to ones home of childhood. Thanks! Feels good to hit the century!

J P Joshi, I have not read The train to Pakistan but I have read other stories. Moreover, I have heard numerous stories from my mother in law and other people. They are traumatic.

Mohan, try visiting the Wagah border.It is a very interesting place.

Mustaf, for some inexplicable reason, the Sindhis do not talk about the trauma of partition. It is only recently some have started writing on it. There is a book by Rita Kothari called Unbordered memories. Read it if you can.

Aditya, thanks a lot. I am glad you learned something from this post.

Sanatanuda, thank you. I hope you will keep visiting.

Panorama, as a journalist, you are bound to listen to horror stories every day. No wonder you empathise with them. I am glad you liked the post.

Sujata, we are made of sterner stuff, we will sail through this episode. On second thoughts, may be we won't. I am already feeling the pangs.
You will love Amritsar. And so will your kids. Take them next year.

Babli, thanks. I am glad you liked the post.

BK Chowla said...

It was one of the most horrifying experience for those who had seen the real action.War never is productive,it only creates centuries lasting hatred.
Our family did not suffer in absolute terms, but it did leave a lasting impression on the minds of now elderly like my Father.
But I feel very sorry that neither our schools nor the parents have brought the children up to date about the facts and the sufferings of those who got separated. and suffered.Generation post mid-80s is not even sensitive to this subject where millions lost their lives.

Antarman said...

very touching post!
But what is point of always reminding ourselves those wounds..even many pujabi families got them in independent India also and if they remebr them our country will not remain the same united one it is today.

Swatantra said...

Nice post very touching as it belongs to me...

For me Punjabis are hardworking, sindhis are amazing at business and i adore a bengali women for her dominate character...

The picture on the top of the blog is superb!!

wanderlust said...

Very well said, Aparna.
When we categorize people, we always forget what made them the way they are. I always respect the fighting spirit of these people who have built lives and empires after losing everything that they've had. We are what we are not only by birth but also by our circumstances. What we do with that is what makes it different.

Surya Kannan said...

Hey, Brilliant Blog!

Jyothi said...

Another touching and brilliant post. No wonder you hit the 100 mark. :)
I can't even think of the situation if someone tells me not to come to Kerala. My God!
Why were they dancing? Was it an occasion or it happens everyday????

Sandhya said...

I am able to sense the trauma your people went through, while coming here - crossing over from East Bengal to India. I did a post now about 'Buniyaad', the story of which covers the partition time. I saw it again when it was telecast for the second time. Have read a lot about it in newspapers and magazines, but mostly about the partition between India and Pakistan, not about people coming here from East Bengal.

I just cannot imagine losing my current house and familiar places and thrown out to become refugees in someother strange country.

I am reading about the Sindhi communities for the first time. I just don't understand why people can't live peacefully in their own country. The politicians are the culprits. Whatever facilities we get in other countries, it will never be ours, Aparna. I have come to know a lot of information in this post.

I am sure you will take your MIL once to her place. Our regards to her.

The Holy Lama said...

A moving narrative and restrospection. Hats off to the writer in you. I had Sindhi friends and somehow, partition and hatred was missing in them. Their grandparents relocated to Raipur from Sindh and just adapted to it.At least, they didn't show the pain or the loss but once a while the pain surfaced esp when the sikh riots happened. Can go on commenting on this forever. will stop now.

Nazish Rahman said...

Very well written Aparna!! Those who have lost their loved ones and their birthplace..it difficult to really even understand what they have gone through!!
The Golden Temple picture is really looking great on your header!!

R. Ramesh said...

what a piece...comes straight fm yr heart..and sure to touch a chord with one and all who have a heart...really informative one ya..many of my friends here tell me their tale in a similar tone..i can feel the pulse dear friend...take care best wishes

manju said...

Such a moving and thought- provoking post, Aparna.

I have heard experiences from the time of partition, from two Sindhi families which are close friends with my family.

As you have said in an above comment- we seem to have not learnt from the past. And our leaders encourage divisive activities and policies instead unifying ones.

Nikki said...

I never knew this! I had read a bit in Amitav Ghosh's Shadow Lines.

I have goose bumps now...

Anu said...

That was a great piece of writing! though I have experienced none of the travails of partition, i grew up among the punjabis with painful memories that you mention, and empathise with the troubles they have been through.. i went to wagah as a child, and then, it was a lot more peaceful than it is today, and the more pics and videos i see, the less i feel like taking my son there..... as you rightly said,the birds are more free than we are..

thanks for the comment on my blog... glad you liked it.. i am following your blog now... enjoyed reading some of your earlier posts too..

Aparna said...

BK Chowla, unfortunately, most people are not aware of the traumatic events of our partition and as you rightly said, the post 80s generation are blissfully oblivious.

Antarman, I want people to remember the pain, and not the bitterness. Hopefully the parents can teach the children not to hate.

Swatantra, thanks. I am glad.

Wanderlust, If we teach our children to love everybody equally, we can avoid the pain of partition from happening again in future.

Surya Kannan, thank you.

Jyothi, the show at Wagah is actually quite entertaining. But I really did not understand the meaning behind it. I would have preferred a memorial.

Sandhya,there are a lot of books on the traumatic events that followed after the partition of Bengal, but they are mostly in Bengali. You might find some stories on the net if you are to keen to know more.

Holy lama, very few Sindhis are willing to share their experiences.Sometimes though, the grief comes out.

Nazish, thanks. Yes, you and I will never understand the pain of losing everything. I hope nobody has to go through it again.

Ramesh, thanks friend. You take care too.

Manju, what do the politicians know of the pain of the common people? They are busy making money.

Nikki, Have not read Shadow lines. Is it good?

Anu, thanks and welcome to my blog. Actually your son may like Wagah. The retreat ceremony can be very entertaining. But I felt perhaps there should have been a memorial to the people who died during that phase of our history.

Gymnast said...

partition has always been the stuff of history textbooks to me. Though i have read about the bloodshed and violece at the time..i have not known anyone who has lived through it.

This post made it a little more real. Well written!

Bhavya.B said...

An eye opener . I have read about partition highlighting the dates and the leaders who involved .But the emotions of the people who lost everything ...Really you had added that in to the post .

Destiny's child... said...

I am one of those 20 somethings, to whom partition the partiton probably means nothing. Thanks for writign this post, Aparna. I have only read and heard knowledge about all this.
I don't know what to say, it was very, very touching.

Sumandebray said...

Last evening I, my mother, wife and daughter went to a shopping centre in Sharjah. One of the shop assistants was from Bangladesh. He asked us where we were from and I said Kumilla, a district in Bangladesh. He said that he thought we were from Kolkata. We confirmed that he was right but that is where my original house was. That is my roots even if I hadn't seen that place in my life. He turned out to be from a neighboring village. It’s a pity that I will probably never put my foot in that piece of ancestral land and in spite of that we shall keep referring to Kumilla for all celebrations and rituals. This is how much we would have liked to remain as one country given the choice.
Sadly, I know quite well how much the people suffered during the partition ….. from both side of the border probably but I know only about the Indian side . I have heard of my friends relatives going mad after witnessing atrocities being committed against their loved ones in front of them while they were totally helpless. They have been waking up middle of the nights for rest of their life screaming for help!
Now, I do not perceive the partition as an evil without going into several reasons that attributed to this. But I see partition as the solution to the problem that was created and nurtured long before the dividing lines were drawn.
Fortunately for us many people who left and came without a single paisa have been able to come out of that situation and have managed to educate themselves also achieved prosperity. Sadly though some got lost forever …..

Tomz said...

@Aparna
We shot it for our company. We have uploaded it into the company's video website. You can see them
1. Here,
2. Here,
3. Here
4. Here and
5. Here

I rmbr the officer put a film song with national spirit and called children to step down on the ground and to dance. Yo can see them dancing in these videos.

phatichar said...

Really, Aparna - you brought a lump to my throat. What a post!

Reminds me of the song from Refugee:

Panchhi Nadiyaan Pawan Ke Jhonke
Koi Sarhad Na Inhein Roke

Sarhad Insaanon Ke Liye Hai
Socho Tum Aur Maine Kya Paaya
Insaan Hoke


The most heart-rending post I've read in a long long time.

ani_aset said...

Very well said aparna. What has happened has happened, its about how one moves on, moves forward, ofcourse after taking into account of what people have been through. but Should we forget what happened?:negative

Aditya said...

Brilliant post!
very well said and highly informative!

the present generation doesn't care about partition and does not know a thing about it! they just know the numbers and whenever reminded of them just think about them for a minute and then completely forget about it!

Meira said...

You are kind of correct. I have not experienced the tragedy of partition, all I know about it is from books and accounts of neighbor aunts and uncles. I may sympathize with them and truly feel for them, but I can probably never understand their anguish. I may be lucky in a way to have not experienced that pain, but it sure doesn't give me the right to categorize people from a particular region.

Balvinder Singh said...

"Yeh waqt bhee dekhaa hai
Taareekh kee ghadiyon ne
Lamhon ne khataa kee thee
Sadiyon ne sazaa payee"

I always qoute this touching urdu couplet written by some poet whenever i am reminded of the partition. This roughly translates into :

"The annals of the history
have witnessed such times,
For the blunders committed in moments
The centuries had to pay the price"

Sharmila said...

I want to visit Wagah once. Guess this is how time deals with things. And new generations may never know or feel what really happened ... it is impossible to even create that thing even for a show. So guess that display of upbeat mood is ok in its own place with its own reason.
It is posts like this that reawaken the feel of what happened then Aparna. Great write with feel. :-)
Dhaka might look new to your MIL now ... especially if she is looking for nostalgia and memories.

Aparna said...

Sorry for the late reply people.

Gymnast, the violence and bloodshed are best forgotten. Thank you for appreciating my point of view.

Bhavya B, thank you.

Destiny's child, I just feel that partition should be kept alive in our mind for a sole purpose. It caused tremendous pain to some people and we should take care to see that nothing like that happens ever again.

Suman, I do the same.Every time someone asks that question, I always say "I am originally from east bengal" Though I perhaps will never see that part of the globe ever in my life. It is embedded deep in our psyche. So much violence, so much pain, all for a piece of land.

Tomz, thank you very much for the videos. I saw them. I hope other people see them too.

Phatichar, you are absolutely right,the song kept playing in my mind throughout the ceremony. Thank you for your appreciative comment.

Anirudh, glad you liked the post. For a lot of people it was so traumatic that they would rather forget. I feel we should remember just to keep this from happening again.

Aditya, thank you.

Meira, so do you label the Punjabis and the sindhis and the bengalis? Tell me how you think of them. I am keen to know :)

Balvinder, I was waiting for your reply on this post. As a Punjabi and an army man, I wanted to know what you thought about this. What beautiful lines! And so true. Really loved it.

Sharmila, I do not know whether she will ever visit Dhaka. I have heard that the house where she stayed still exists. Who knows, if it is possible, we might take her.

Insignia said...

Very touching. Especially the last picture was a slap on all the people. What did they achieve by dividing the country?

Sakshi said...

I know I will sound so boring and repetitive when I say you write so well. But then who cares abt poor me?? When I read people writing about how happy they felt after they saw all the celebrations happening at the border and that they are blessed to be there at this age when the two countries are celebrating brotherhood, I feel so lost. Maybe I have not experienced the partition but I have read and heard about the pain it has caused to millions. Instead of turning the place into a circus they should have demanded everyone to observe silence and respect the perseverance of those souls who help build two nations from a bloody past. I believe it would have done a little justice to the pain of those who lost their loved ones in the name of war.

Shachi said...

wow - such a beautiful post. Thank you for writing it!

The pictures are amazing....I feel like visiting this place!

Aparna said...

Thanks Insignia, Sakshi and Shachi.

Partition is a very painful moment of our history. Both the countries achieved freedom at a very high cost and and it is essential that we mourn our dead properly.

I strongly felt there should have been a memorial at Wagah.Celebrating our freedom is good, but this was such a drama.Looked ridiculous.

Standbymind said...

Awesome...

I keep going here all the time...

Akshay said...

This is truly a very touching post. The people who were really affected by the partition know how difficult it was!! For most of us, it is just any other chapter in history.

I still remember how Bhombhol and my Boudi telling me how difficult it was during the partition. Your mother-in-law's experience still gives me goosebumps.

anju singh said...

Hey I love the pictures...though we ve seen these many times ...


still everytime one see...something clicks instantly remincience just breaking the clutter.....just loved it...