A few days ago I saw a college acquaintance’s Facebook status. It went along the lines of her visiting the Indo-Pak border and asking older men and women what their experiences of Partition (India being divided into two countries, India and Pakistan, back in 1947 during independence from the British) were like. I suppose she planned to write a book or something about it. Someone else commented on her status saying it is nice that she is hearing the stories of old people, whose own families have such little time to listen.
That got me thinking.
It is very interesting that I have studied a fair amount of Indian History in college, (heck, even done a History Major!) and read a lot of memoirs about those who experienced Partition first-hand. However, I have never actually asked my own grandparents (who lived through it!) what it was really like. My grandparents grew up in Sindh in a town called Shikarpur. India was to be divided on the grounds of religion, with a Muslim-majority Pakistan and a Hindu-majority India. As my family was Hindu, and as Sindh was a part of the region that would belong to the new Muslim Pakistan, my grandparents had to migrate to present day India. They left behind their property and a lot of their possessions, were separated from their friends, and witnessed unimaginable violence and bloodshed at very young ages.
I’m not entirely sure why I never asked them much about Partition until now. But here are a few possible reasons-
1. Evolving Relationship – I know that my relationship with my grandparents has evolved over the years. To put it simplistically, I went through my own different phases as I grew up. These phases included having fun and being pampered by my grandparents as a small child, being too “busy” with school and friends to spend time with them as a teenager, and going off for college and being away from them as an adult.
2. Sensitive Topic – I suppose I thought their experiences of Partition might be a sensitive topic to bring up anyway (for them to remember, for me to digest). I guess a part of me believed it easier to ask a stranger about their experiences, than my own grandparents.
3. The way we study History -I did not think too much about Partition until I went to college in America, because the way I studied Indian History in my school in Mumbai was so different – but that’s a separate issue all together, one I could spend a while talking about.
Anyway, now that I’m in my 20s – older (and I’d like to think wiser), I am spending a lot more time chatting with my grandparents. I enjoy their company and make more of an effort to meet them. I hear their point of views on different issues, and surprisingly agree or at least understand them. I tell them more about my life in New York. I ask questions about how I was as a child, how my parents were as children, and what their own lives were like before marriage. And finally, I have asked them about Partition. And glad I am that I did because they were so excited to share!
They were barely around 13 years old when Partition happened. Many families around them were slowly moving away to different places. Finally they made the move and left their homes. Bags were inspected by gangs who stole a lot of their money and possessions. They traveled from Karachi to Bombay (now Mumbai) in steamers for about 3-4 days and, upon reaching, had to begin their lives in Bombay from scratch, dealing with a host of new problems. The detail with which events, roads, houses and people were remembered is remarkable! And I learned a lot about my family, my roots and how things have changed for us over the years.
Perhaps in the future I will write about some of the experiences they shared. But for now, all I’d like to say is, sometimes we’re out searching for things far away that we forget what we have so close to home. Give your grandparents more of your time and really talk to them. Tell them more about your life. Ask them about their history. I am sure they have stories to tell that they’d love to share. And there is a lot that you can learn, imagine and appreciate by speaking to them.
Image of the Taj Mahal, which I visited in June 2011.
(Using this as sadly I have never been to the Indo-Pak border, or to Pakistan, to post of a picture from there.)