Edition : September 2016

This History We Missed

Satyawati Malik an art aficionado and an erudite woman patronized literature helping enfeebled writers that all came after partition. The Maliks were somehow not too affected for various reasons and continued to maintain a decent lifestyle. Her house provided canopy, pedestal and a cultured ambience to the highbrowed crowd of Lahore that searched for new identity in the new environs of Delhi. This meeting place was shared by many. Satyawati, mother of Keshav Malik and Kapila Malik (later Vatsyanan) once hosted tea to Harbanslal Sahni, another uprooted businessman from Rawalpindi. After Sahni Sahib was served tea in the selected bone-china ceramics by distinguishable liveried servant, he got so enraged seeing the plush pottery that he broke and dismantled everything lying there. The psychological hurt overpowered his civilities to the extent that he kept muttering how could anyone rejoice and live that way when most were battered and anguished. He was also the father of Balraj and Bhisham Sahni, two names on marquee of arts and popularity that brought respect to the profession and place they belonged.

The mammoth uprooting of humanity has been described multiple times but everytime it divulges new pains valorizing sacrifices made most by Punjabis that impels one to reread that portion of history. For one the secularity of the region was so impenetrable and sturdy that over awed others. Partition recalled through metaphors, writings and cinematic depiction always carries recall quotient and despite many post-partition strifes, it still draws attention and pathos the most. It does not culminate by mere revising those incidents but goes on to prick most despite the banality of fading period. It’s the memory that has been kept alive more by familial surroundings and stories that have gone down from generation to another. And no one likes to forget that past something that we in the subcontinent miss and like to remember more. As said, memories don’t fade. The more one tries to forget the more fresh they turn into. This bunches of stories that one enjoys repeating them never get classified though laced with history of pain it reveals much more about human mind than circumstances. The new media has doubly promoted unseen affinities and amazed at the manner people from both sides crave to share their moorings and stories their forefathers narrated. Memories are giving shape to new kinship and sharing near similar heritage they inherited. These new connections bring out facets that political history never divulged. Stories abound and each uprooted and battered one carried a tale that was inhuman and unbelievable. Could one ascribe this as decimation of providence or inevitability of destiny that slumped humanity to nadir. How can one erase the dispirited look of a humble teacher who joined the exodus from Harbanspura in a train that was covered with humans at every conceivable place except the wheels - The pulverized and disassembled journey was a sight most would like to forget but not that poor teacher hiding with ailing wife and kids suffocated in bogey with bodies pasted with others. The train suddenly came to halt. No one knew reason but it sent chill down and one could see death tormented on many faces. The train was still in newly carved Pakistan’s territorial sphere and each had his prayers on quivering lips. The parched, waterless and air-dry made teacher’s wife groan in pain and there was no sight of a drop anywhere. Someone heard a vendor selling a bucket for hundred bucks … a staggering amount in 1947 and the virtual pauperized families had no source to arrange that in such trying circumstances. She was offloaded with help of other concerned people and put under the shade of a big tree. The lady lay there dying of thirst and sickness. There was nothing one could do. In a land where five full flowing rivers were its lifeline, he could not buy few drops for his passing mate …The once teacher spread his white sheet over the nearly dead body and patted the head, he must have kissed the first night ... He rolled his tears down, the kids wailed out of window. Suddenly the train moved. He could do nothing but left her back covered with sheet under the tree. With moist eyes, holding his heart he rushed to climb the train and soon she was out of sight …! Partition of the country still haunts those who were directly affected but it touched ranging milieu discerned with emotional reaction the sub-continent over. Generations following their parents have not abdicated the pangs on both sides of fence and that connotes both the political foolhardy and rabble rousers who did not see the future on the blank screen they were provided with. It’s no doubt a settled part of history now but somewhere the pangs linger. The scars we all inherited will never be erased maybe not in our times and more till writers and plotters are able to map and machinate substance within those happenings. The enormity still pricks conscience. Chaudhry Nazir Ahmed once wrote in Savera which he edited also an actual happening of a lady who was left behind by her fleeing family. No one knew what to call her when someone named her Jagmaai (Mother of world). She kept waiting for her son who promised to come and fetch her. Whenever or wherever she saw someone resembling contours of her lost son, she would rush to embrace him … Sun Puttar… sun Puttar (Listen son) ... She kept waiting for him till last. When she died, entire Muslim neighbourhood conducted her last rites as per Hindu traditions ... No one even mentioned of taking her to any cemetery. Her body was carried with Hindu hymn of Ram Naam Sat hai chanted none other than by Muslims. Her ashes were later immersed in river Ravi again by few anxious Muslims … If this was the result of a place carved out of bigotry and dogmatism one wondered over the tragic and traumatized happenings that divided race of beautifully hearted people.

One cannot visualize the era till one encounters someone from that part of history. The simplicity of sentiments and words woven engulfs one with interest and absorbing learning of society. Perhaps no wordy intercourse or any ‘dastangoi’ would be competent enough to bring out the reality of period and pathos one still likes to share. One may not be surprised to hear over a million such plots of happening from equal number of human faces crossing over with incertitude, well spread suspicion, twinge of affliction and gnawing pain of punctured hope on both sides of borders. They all appear like stories repeated with changed characters and locales. Subhash Nagpal a senior Indian Revenue Service officer, now settled at Pune often narrated story of his father’s younger brother, Tirath Das Nagpal who refused to get coaxed coming this side of fence. He was affluent but inconsistent health made him stay back at his sprawling house in Gurnani, District Muzafargarh in Multan. He was asked to convert by the new regime and he had no qualms since for him a mere change in name was immaterial as long as he continued being a good human. That was the essence of every religion he presumed. The family was ever in touch since new maps were drawn and lines demarcated them as new entities. They all knew of conversion but that never diluted the bond … A mere name that they all often asserted could not be the denominator. Subhash Nagpal when visited the place some years back never let any thought cross of indifference he might encounter. With his Chachi (Aunty) then too old and the sole witness to the period was as congenial and affectionate as one would have expected. She surprisingly had no trace of any binding or compulsion of new faith that prevented her from carrying out her obligations. She knew everything and missed everyone despite the long gap. It was heartening to meet his new cousins who were as warm as any brother could be. They all knew about each one this side of border and inquired genuinely about every relative. It became difficult for him to feel being in an alien environment. The old lady followed both Quran and Gita and they were given equal respect in the family. Partition between India and Pakistan can never turn irrelevant. Something that more than politicians finding reason to continue their hold through emotional paroxysm gets rebuffed when generations still explore family backgrounds and lost connections from pre-partition times while getting into marriage alliances . No one trusts any other yardstick measuring pedigreed societal standing of families even after six decades of separation. It nevertheless certifies the centuries of bonding that one partition fails to divide. Political ideologies that sound meaningful at one particular time don’t guarantee to enthuse forever. The unconscious nudge the division of land has brought about makes us forget the reality of modern times to start afresh with better stories and improved scripts. Perhaps this part of history we forgot the most.

-Vinod Kapoor
© Copyrights with author.
Writer was earlier with AIR and Doordarshan
Email: vinodkapoor5@yahoo.com

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