60 years after partition, ‘home’ still beckons

By Azera Rahman, IANS

New Delhi : Some pine for the taste of khurmani fruit and some miss the shimmer of Anarkali bazaar while others remember the beauty of a simple lifestyle. But one mention of the word ‘partition’, pain and anguish cloud their wrinkled faces.

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The sub-continent’s partition led to the birth of Pakistan and India on Aug 14 and 15, 1947, respectively. Once the border lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders for what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority.

Based on the 1951 census of displaced people, an estimated 7.22 million Muslims went over to Pakistan from India while 7.24 million Hindus and Sikhs made it in the reverse direction before, during and after partition.

For the thousands who left their homes in Pakistan and settled here during that traumatic period, life has been a long journey, full of ups and downs.

“I hardly have any memory of that period. I was very young then,” is the first reaction of 75-year-old Joginder Raj Vinaik of Delhi who came from Koita in Pakistan.

It’s not easy to get someone to revisit a painful past. But with a little prodding, endless stories of a golden period came tumbling out from Vinaik.

“Koita is a mountainous region in Pakistan. It was a beautiful place with different fruit trees all over the place. Shahtoot, khurmani, cherry, black grapes, badam… everything used to grow on trees and we used to pluck and eat them without anyone screaming at us.

“The place used to look even more beautiful in winters when it used to snow for five to six months. It would be so cold that the water in the taps would freeze!” Vinaik told IANS nostalgically.

The ‘heaven like days’, however, soon came to an end as the fire of partition fuelled in 1947.

“We took a house in Karol Bagh and all of us started working. I must have been 14 or 15 and got a job in the Delhi Cloth Mills,” Vinaik narrated.

Although life completely changed for the Vinaik family, his passion for football did not. He became a part of the Delhi state football team when he was 22. Around that time his team went to Pakistan to play a match there.

“How I wished I could go to my ancestral house, but you know the rules! We went playing at Peshawar and then to Multan. Then I had to come back… without seeing my beautiful home,” he said.

“How I wish there was no partition! Given a choice I would want to go back there – but none of us can ever go there again.”

Like him, 72-year-old Darshan Lal, who had come from Hasan Abdal near Islamabad during the partition, remembers his young days across the border with nostalgia.

“Back home, we were very well off. We had shops, land and other properties. But life was simple. People used to eat and live simply,” Lal said softly.

“We used to cross parks and streams on our way to school. People were warm, friendly and had great respect for each other. There was no discrimination just because you were a Hindu or a Muslim,” he said.

Sitting in his small shop in Indra Vihar in north Delhi, Lal pointed at the big lock on his door. “See that?” he asked. “Until we came here, we hardly knew what a lock was. Back there, it was so safe. People used to leave their houses open and sleep, knowing very well that there are no robbers to loot them. Girls and children would walk and play on the roads without a trace of fear. But that kind of life is long gone,” he said.

Lal said they couldn’t believe that they would have to leave their homes forever.

“That fateful night it was Dussehra. We were in the gurdwara, empty-handed. My parents had a little money but that was hardly enough. Our elders said ‘aman ho jayega (there will be peace) and then we will come back’,” Lal said. “But that never happened.”

Travelling for days in trucks and goods trains, their family, like hundreds of others, spent days and then years in refugee camps. Finally they settled in Faridabad in Haryana.

“It was a long struggle here. We children had long left studying and had to work to help the family survive. I got a job with the Faridabad Development Board when I was 18. Life has been going on since then,” he smiled.

When asked if he would like to go back to his ancestral house, he smiled again.

“I tried, we all tried going back just to see it. We got the passports but not the visa. Initially we used to keep in touch with friends from there through letters but soon the letters used to invite queries from officials, so we stopped writing.

“Even today if I close my eyes, I can trace my city, my school and my home – clearly,” he said with a faraway look.

For Lala Punj Lal, memories of the light and shimmer of the Anarkali market in Lahore never left him. Although he is no more, his daughter Parveen Aggarwal, who was born in India and now lives in Amritsar, remembers every detail of the life her father led in Pakistan.

“He came to India when he was 25 or 28 years old,” Aggarwal told IANS.

“My father used to always tell me that he missed going to the Anarkali market and roaming around with his friends in the ‘tonga’ (horse-drawn carriage),” she reminisced.

“One of the things he used to always tell us was about the way people lived during those times. Most of the time, two or three families gathered and cooked and ate in one house. There was a lot of prosperity but life was simple,” she said.

All of that changed once the fire of partition reached their locality.

“My father, along with his family, walked from their home to this side of the border. It was Aug 14, 1947. They reached Jalandhar city and started life anew,” she said.

Having left behind everything, Lal’s family started a small business, in their family trade of spices.

“My father was in touch with his friends from Lahore for long after he came here. But slowly everything faded away. In 1982, a cousin went there and he came back saying that he didn’t recognise anything. Everything had changed,” Aggarwal said.

Like Aggarwal, Rajesh Babbar too grew up listening to the tales of ‘those days’ by his father. “At the time of partition, my father was 13 years old. He was the only son of the family, which had seven daughters, four of whom were married.

“When the violence started, my grandmother ran away with him as she wanted to save her son. My grandfather was killed while trying to save his three daughters,” Babbar said.

Joining a refugee caravan, Babbar’s grandmother and father reached Delhi. Since she had managed to bring half a kilo of gold with her, she could rent a room in the Pahargunj area of Delhi and send her son to school.

Studying till Class 10, Babbar’s father started working soon after that and got married a few years later.

“My father, who is no more, always yearned to go back to his ancestral home, visit his school, walk in those lanes. Unfortunately he could never go back. But after hearing all those stories, I really want to go there,” Babbar said.

What does Aug 15 mean to all of them?

“It means losing one home to gain another,” said Darshan Lal. On the 60th year of Independence, these families feel every bit proud like any other Indian, but still can’t stop wishing that the partition had never taken place.