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.