Stories of Partition: Memoirs of a Hindu
by Swati Sharan
Swati Sharan is an Indian-origin freelance writer and peace activist who resides in Canada. She has written this short story based on the account of a partition refugee or “survivor” who migrated to India due to partition and then eventually to Canada but while he was compelled to move, he could not move away from the memories, the pain and trauma of loss and separation that accompanied the event of partition that divided the subcontinent and displaced millions of people not only physically but emotionally. The story was originally published at Booksie
In author’s own words:
I wrote this around 2000 at a point when I noticed that many of the second Indo-Canadian generation at large had grown up and little was being written about them. While Jhumpa Lahiri had won the Pulitzer in the U.S., we in Canada were bereft of an identity or presence in Canadian fiction though Indians had been inhabiting the country for almost 100 years. Figures like Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Vasanjee or Shauna Singh Baldwin had made their mark on a highly prestigious level and I was a great fan of all of them. But these guys were mostly not writing about Indians in Canada whether they were first or second generation. Whereas I grew up witnessing even the little things that the first generation, who largely migrated to Canada or the U.S. in the 1960s, go unrecorded. I was also being told by some to not bother focusing on work within the Indian milieu because it was seen as being impractical because it wouldn’t be marketable at large and I may not gain acceptance from the mainstream. But I chose to write a series of short stories anyways over the years even if I couldn’t find anyone to publish them or win any contests with them. I was not here to please. I was here to write.
But on the same token, I had to wrestle with the fact that for some of my stories with desi flair, I had to include an explanation about every second thing for both the second generation Indo-Canadians as well as the non-Indian public at large. On the other hand, there were many partition refugees in Canada and some of them were passing on. Yet many of them rarely spoke about it and would tell their children or grandchildren little or next to nothing about it. I later learned in the late 90s in an article in India Today about how untouched the stories of partition actually were and they were just starting to come out more. So while it seemed fine to accept that people were choosing what was in front of them, it was just as important to know what was behind them from atleast a historical purpose. Otherwise, a great manipulation of history risks occurring as we are seeing in the present time. Based on my conversations with different refugees, I found that sometimes they were not the ones who were holding grudges against Pakistanis or Indians inspite of all their suffering. If anything, they wished for both of these places to progress. But much misinformation has dictated otherwise when it comes to Indo-Pak relations and it’s sometimes by those people who had nothing to do with partition. So herein hangs my tale.
MEMOIRS OF A HINDU
Epilogue – The Year 2000 – Hospital Cafeteria, Toronto
“Amitash, have you read the newspaper today?” asked Susan James as she filed through a national newspaper while sitting in the staff cafeteria.
“There seems to be an obituary about an elderly Indian man from St. John’s. Some man who went through partition and then came here to live with his family in Canada.”
Amitash immediately jumped to look at the paper. “That’s my grandfather! But how did it get published here?” He read further down until he saw the name. Alisha Sood is Ravinder Prakash’s granddaughter and lives in Newfoundland. “This is written by my kid-sister Alisha! I don’t believe it!”
He read on for more details about his grandfather. He was shocked to realise how much he probably didn’t know about him. “…left Lahore which is now in Pakistan… went through Birla House where he met the then Indian prime minister Nehru addressing everyone… came to India through Delhi… went to Patna and started with a tea stall near the train station… moved to Canada when his wife died… and lived with his son’s family, including grandchildren…”
Amitash didn’t know what to believe. He left for home immediately where just as he entered, the phone rang. It was a stranger who had read the column and tracked him down through his mother.
“I got your family’s number through directory assistance and spoke with your mother. I just have to meet with you. I am old and don’t know how but I know I must. You are a legacy of your grandfather.”
“But who are you?”
“My name is Pervez Hassan and I live with my son here. Your grandfather was one of my close friends before he left Pakistan. I had no idea what became of him and lost him in the crowd when he was leaving for India. Things were very crazy then. When I learned about his experiences, it really made me cry.”
“Do you want to get together then? I can drive over.”
Plans about where and how to meet were made and executed. Before Amitash stood the last remnant of a life his grandfather never spoke to him about and in some ways his only living connection to that old world. And before Pervez stood his last chance to embrace his deceased friend’s legacy.
Prologue –The Year 2000 – Ravinder Prakash’s deathbed in St. John’s, Newfoundland
Om, or the name of God (e.g. Hey Ram), should be the last thing uttered before passing on as per Hindu beliefs. This is believed to make the transition to the hereafter smoother.
“Hey Ram,” he uttered lying on his deathbed recalling both old and new memories. Caught between life and the hereafter, he started visualising his life before the division of India and Pakistan. He remembered his youth in Lahore and the lessons his mother had given him for remembering God.
These stood at the very core of what helped him survive the tribulations he faced throughout much of his journey in the present body his soul entertained. From his arrival in India as a refugee to his move to live with his son in Canada, this childhood faith is what helped him get through it all.
He looked at each challenge as an opportunity for developing this faith. It was, as far as he was concerned, perhaps why God put before a given situation in the first place. It was a way to be brought closer to the Almighty.
His last days had been spent reading the works, including Bhagvad Geeta. Ravinder Prakash spent most of his time in his room doing this. His grandchildren peeked in periodically to see how he was. The Bhagvad Geeta had not appealed to the likes of them.
Toni Braxton CDs and pants with tapered waists were more like it for Abhilasha and Alisha at their age. The Barbie-sized stretch tops only added to the picture. Amitash, who was a bit older than the girls, sported a goatee and a pierced ear. His clothes at one point appeared to be three times bigger than him. He also loved to play basketball in the driveway. But all that, as time and fashion passed, were out.
Amitash had got a degree in pharmacy from Memorial University of Newfoundland and left St. John’s for Toronto and was now working in a hospital there. He just came here to visit his grandfather.
Overall, Amitash and the girls were good kids, Ravinder thought. It was just hard for them to identify with the strife that made itself felt throughout much of his life. At points, he felt that the struggles of the sub-continent entwined with the toil of his own existence. He wondered if he should have told them all about it when he was younger.
But at that time, it seemed like too great a contrast in lifestyles. These kids were from a professional Canadian middle-class background where they had little or no interaction with India and her cultural bi-products. And when the 1985 Air India crash happened, Ravinder just felt it better not to say anything.
It was as if the destructive elements of India’s problems could not be left behind. In places like Toronto or Vancouver, because of the large South Asian population, Ravinder may have considered not shielding the kids from the problems. In Newfoundland, however, it was only too easy to.
So, when his son and daughter-in-law set out to live in a small outport area for a couple of years, it couldn’t have been better. In a place that was all white, India’s legacies could not follow them.
But then the family moved back to St. John’s. And now the kids were getting old enough to try to “fit in” with their counterparts in society. Ravinder dared not make them more of a misfit than what they already were by virtue of their skin colour and what they ate at home. Hence, they grew up knowing more about what was in front of them rather than what he hoped lay behind them.
Ravinder’s move to Canada came about in the late ‘70s when his wife died. The children had never seen him till then. In fact, Alisha, the youngest, was not even born.
“What’s left?” his son Sunil had said. “Mataji has passed on and now it’s just us. There’s nobody to look after you there.”
“Yes papa,” Shailja had echoed. “Come stay with us. The children have always wondered about you and Mataji.”
How lucky he was to have a daughter-in-law as sweet as Shailja. It was her infinite love and care that made settling in Canada easier. Without her, he knew not what he would do.
Resettling, all the same, had not come easily. It was one of the reasons why he had not wanted to leave India when the prospect came up. Ravinder did not want to have to rebuild at this late an age. On the other hand, he also didn’t want to be separated from his only son and their family. Ravinder had no one else.
Ravinder’s mind then flashed to Patna. It was the city he had been directed to as a young man after leaving Lahore to cross into New Delhi. What a farce his earlier life in Lahore seemed at that point. He and his sisters could never have imagined when they were younger that India would be split into two.
Their family had arrived penniless with nothing other than the clothes off their backs. They had slept on the open fields next to the train station for months with surrounding tin shelters until the family was able to secure enough of an income to move into a small two-room house.
What a contrast this was to the life they had known in Lahore in the ’30s. Ravinder and his sisters had lived in great comfort then with a compound to play in. And of course, that included the ayahs or maids to wait on them.
Such pleasure had they known then. So much so that they could never imagine that partition could take place. This was their home. Why should they be made to leave?
With the onset of the ’40s however, the picture became grimmer. The All India Muslim League was fast gaining momentum. Civil unrest was beginning to overtake them.
The horrors of the exodus still felt unbelievable even as Ravinder would sit to have his tea on his rope-strewn cot in Patna on many a late afternoon. Since moving to Patna, he had started selling tea from a tea stand.
As stability occupied him more, Ravinder began selling bread in the ‘New Market’ area. Some thought of this as being a part of the Refugee Market area because many of the people who did business there were refugees.
With the aid of his father, he eventually went on to open a confectionery goods store in the central area of Patna on Dak Bangla Road. The business now thrived and with this success, Ravinder helped finance his sisters’ marriages and provide for his extended family. Life had been a struggle but Ravinder’s faith in the almighty and the wisdom and guidance of his elders got him through this. The one constant he had was his faith which was remaining till his dying days.
The memory started fading out and a vision of his son Sunil started fading in until…oh yes… Sunil… the reason he had come.
Looking back on the series of events in his life and India’s, he wondered whether he had done the right thing by keeping his grandchildren in the dark about her as a culture and a politic. As much as he couldn’t understand Kargil in the summer of ’99 and why it had to be, Ravinder couldn’t help but think that he did the wrong thing by not talking about their heritage.
He felt that much guiltier when Alisha came home asking him about their family tree. It was a project from school she said. “C’mon Dadaji. You’ve got to help me.”
“But what can I help you with?”
“You can help me with a lot. I don’t know a thing about our family or where we came from. I mean I know we’re Punjabi but that’s about it. You never talk about these things and we never see mom and dad ‘cuz they’re always busy. So, why don’t you say something? My friend Vanessa’s got everything traced back to Ireland eight generations ago.”
At this point, he was overcome with tears. Though in his dying days, this was the chance that God gave him to make up for all that he hadn’t done.
Immediately, their lessons began in family history and the Indian sub-continental polity. This included being told about how her grandfather met the first Indian Prime Minister Nehru at Birla House as he and their family members had crossed the border. Religion, of course, also interspersed now and again from the readings of the Ramayana in Urdu to partition.
Like an intricately woven tapestry, Ravinder spun the threads of their heritage. Surges of weakness, however, had begun to claim him more and more.
He found himself returning to bed earlier. He also felt more inclined towards the chanting of the Santhi Pat or the chants of peace.
Though St. John’s lay in great contrast to his early days in Lahore, he all the more couldn’t help but recount those days as he lay in his bed. It was as if everything in between was starting to blur slowly. And then one day, when Shailja was doing her prayers, she blew the conch from the pooja or prayer room.
Upon this sound, Ravinder’s life flashed before him. The pain and tension from his body were slowly being released.
The words of the Bhagvad Gita were slowly recalled. You are the soul. You are never born and you never die. The births you take are like the old clothes you change. You leave your body like you would your clothes. Until of course, you merge with the almighty and free yourself from rebirth.
He then started easing into his final utterances for remembering God before making his way into the hereafter. “Hey Ram… Hey Ram… Hey Ram…”
With no feeling of anything further left to yearn for and with no grievances or regrets, Ravinder experienced a state of moksha or freedom of the soul. He was now ready to leave his body. A great life was left behind.
 Air India was bombed in 1985 by some Sikh terrorists to pressure the Indian government into forming Khalistan, a separatist Sikh homeland
 Mataji is a respectful way of addressing one’s mother in Hindi or Punjabi.
 In the summer of 1999, India and Pakistan faced strife and war in the area known as Kargil in the Kashmir area of India.
 A native of Punjab or whose cultural origins hail from Punjab
 Moksha or soul freedom is a high spiritual state of bliss when all your karmas (thoughts, deeds or actions) cancel each other out. Karma is believed by Hindus to be recorded something like a debit/credit ledger over lifetimes. (Karmas can prompt rebirth be they bad or good. I.e. you will need to repay your debts or people pay theirs back to you). Many Hindus mistakenly assume moksha to mean one has passed on and speak of it this way but you can’t get moksha after you die. You need to be alive for it. Moksha is seen as being an ultimate aim and grants one freedom from rebirth. At this point, one has no unfulfilled desires, grievances or regrets or a yearnful attachment to another person or thing. Therefore, there is no cause to be reborn then.
Fiction Story: History was all you left me…
by Sobh Saeed (Pakistan)
I am going to meet him. I am finally going to meet him. After 70 years of separation, I will meet him.
I continuously chanted the same sentences over and over in my head , my hands shaking with anxiety. I thrust them inside the pocket of my dark tailored coat, unable to contain my excitement.
India had changed so much since I’d last left it but it still felt like home. The place I was born in , the place I’d went to school in, the place I’d made so many amazing friendships that were destined to be broken in.
But I was here now, to revive them. At least one of them. Sure, I was 70 years late, but better late than never.
The day I found out my old friend—Sanjay Gupta—was still alive and well , I’d practically jumped for joy but unfortunately, my old man limbs had betrayed me, leading my body to make contact with the floor.
However, I did not let a few broken limbs pull me down and instantly decided to buy a ticket for India. The whole visa process was hard and took a good period of time but I still managed to do it in the end. And now, here I was. In India. Or more accurately, in Bombay. Knowing it was Mumbai now, I still liked to refer to it as Bombay as that’s what I’d been calling it the 12 years I’d lived there and I was not ready to give that up.
I glanced at my old school, it’s red-brick building as beautiful as ever. An emotional wave of nostalgia passed through me as the taxi drove along the buildings and towards the residential area.
I remembered myself and Sanjay running through these very streets in our early years , as our crisp white kurtas flapped in the direction of the wind. Our faces plastered with wide, happy grins. Those were the days when we would spend all day outside, playing together till the sun didn’t decide to say goodbye. I smiled at the thought and then frowned at what happened later on.
The Big Goodbye. The Parting Of Ways. The Partition.
It was the middle of August, 1947 when my father announced we were going away , leaving behind our beautiful mansion to start a new life. I cried, afraid that I would never see my friends again. My mother , having been the caring woman she was, consoled me saying it was just temporary and that I’d be united with my friends in no time at all. I believed her.
We packed a few bags, taking just the absolute necessities. It wasn’t possible for us to take so much belongings as the trains would be packed and there’d be no space. Mother silently wept at not being given the permission to take the pretty collection of ornaments she’d made over the years. She thought no one noticed it, but everyone did.
A tear rolled down my wrinkly face as the taxi came to a halt. “Your destination is here , sir.” Came the voice of the taxi driver.
I nodded, giving him his fees and letting him keep the change.
I had invited my children to join me on my trip to India from Pakistan but they had instantly neglected the offer, saying it was the ‘rival’ country and could not be trusted. They had persisted that I shouldn’t go either because it was not safe.
What did they know about safety? It wasn’t them that had spent a whole train ride during the time of partition not knowing if they’d make it out alive and reach the other side.
Only when the taxi rolled away did I realise that Sanjay must have changed now. He would be an old man like me, with children—perhaps even grandchildren—and responsibilities. It was hardly possible that he would be his old, jolly and carefree self.
Nevertheless, I rang the bell of the ‘Gupta mansion’(That’s what it said on the sign) , patiently waiting for somebody to let me in. I heard faint footsteps from the other end and hushed voices. Finally , the door opened to reveal a little girl—perhaps 7-years-old—smiling expectantly at me. An older girl with very curly black hair(that greatly resembled Sanjay’s) hurried behind her, frowning and scolding the girl for opening the door without her permission.
“Namaste.” I greeted. “Sanjay Gupta lives here , right?”
The older girl’s eyebrows drooped and I noticed she had dark circles under her eyes. “Yes, dada lives here but not here at the same time.”
“What do you mean?” I doubled my hold on my wooden cane.
The younger of the two exclaimed, “He’s dying!”
It’s right how they say children always tell the bitter truth. Everybody else is too scared.
My whole body turned numb. I could just about feel my grip loosen.“C—Can I see him?” I stammered impatiently.
“Who are you?” One of them asked, I couldn’t interpret which because my eyesight had gone blurry and there was a loud ringing in my ears.
“Talha Zubair.” I managed to say after a pause, clutching at the air to find something that would tighten my grip.
“Are you okay?” A voice of concern. “Maa! Maa, there’s a man at the door and he seems sick!”
I strained my ears to be able to hear properly , but all I heard was whispers and barely audible shouts next. New faces appeared. Someone was screaming. A lady grabbed for my wrist and helped me inside , a frown etched on her olive face.
Some time later, I was sat on a comfortable armchair , a mug of extremely sweet tea in my hand.
“Are you at ease?” Somebody questioned in a croaky tone. Were they speaking to me? I blinked twice and looked around. My eyesight had become much better after the tea but I still wished I’d brought my old glasses with me.
I tried to grasp my surroundings. There was a four-poster bed with a dozen white sheets and blankets. Somebody seemed to be laying on it—a man. Suddenly, my vision cleared and I could see properly. He had wrinkly skin like me and a wide lopsided smile on his face. Sanjay.
I’d recognize him anywhere , anytime. He still had a scar beneath his bottom lip and the smile of someone who was about to do something forbidden.
“Sanjay!” I practically bellowed, my voice hoarse yet finally audible.
“Hello.” He greeted, staring at me.
“How are you?” I was bursting to ask so many questions but this was all that came out.
“I’ve seen better times.” He shrugged and then winced at having done that movement.
He had changed so much. His old, boyish face was now etched with lines and wrinkles. His lips trembled when he spoke and there was no longer much life in him.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen you , yet you hardly seem like a stranger.”
Sanjay laughed a croaky laugh, “I’ve missed you dost.” Pause. “So Talha, how is it like living in Pakistan?”
“What can I say? Not much different than living here but very different all the same.” I sipped some more tea. “How was India after I left?”
He was quiet for a moment and then stated, “When you left India—entirely out of the blue—I felt…empty. You know, like imagining that this world will end in oblivion and there’ll be no one left to remember all the amazing things mankind did. That kind of empty. You didn’t tell anyone where you were going, basically, you just left. History was all you left me.”
History was all you left me.
“You’ve become poetic.” I wiped a tear that had trickled down my cheek and smiled at him.
“Is it true what they say on TV then?” He asked , looking up at me curiously.
“Oh you know, about terrorism and everything. That there are a lot of terrorists in Pakistani.”
I was taken aback. “Excuse me?”
“It’s right, isn’t it?” He coughed.
“Why would you say that?” I put the cup of tea on the saucer, straightening up.
“I just wanted to confirm if it’s true. The people here really dislike Pakistan.”
“It’s exactly the same in Pakistan. Even just the mention of India causes uproar and competition. I am disappointed to say that media has become a bigger impact than the values of peace and love.” I replied, sadly. “And perhaps what you said about terrorism is true but I hardly see how that can affect anything. Not every Pakistani is a terrorist.”
“I’m sorry brother for thinking otherwise, I hope someday peace prevails in our countries.”
I nodded, “Me too.”
Sobh Saeed lives in Islamabad, Pakistan and is a student currently doing my O levels. She likes to write in free time or whenever a sudden idea strikes her. She is also a firm believer of peace and would very much like it if there was to be reconciliation between India and Pakistan. She can be contacted at email@example.com
Stories of Partition: The Letter
by Ashraf Ameer (Lahore)
Sometime back, two of my colleagues were exchanging opinions over the riots that took place during the 1947 partition. One of them was of the opinion that it were Muslims who were the ultimate victims of violence. He also justified violence committed by Muslims saying that “this was in retaliation to the train full of corpses that arrived at Lahore railway station”.
The other colleague had an entirely different story to share. He said,
“When the decision of partition was made final and everyone was almost certain that the partition is inevitable, a group of Hindu families in my ancestral village in Bahawalpur (southern Punjab) decided to migrate to India. Some Muslim inhabitants, planning to cause them harm, encircled them to ransack and plunder them of the very few belongings they were carrying. My great grandfather was a very respectable and resourceful person in the village community.”
My colleague also shared that when his grandfather came to know about these wicked plans, he made a public proclamation that “no one should dare harm the migrants. If anyone commits any harm, I will take it personal and will deal with him with all my might”. His grandfather personally ensured that the migrants embark the train to India, safely.
After some years of his death, his family received a letter from one of the members of the migrant group who was a 13-14 years old boy in 1947. He had written “I don’t know whether or not we would ever have been able to make it to India if you would not have stood by us. Anything could have happened to us and we’ll always be grateful to you and your family.”
To share a story of partition, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Blog: Toba Tek Singh, a city and district in Pakistan named after Baba Tek Singh
by Umair Ahmad (Pakistan)
Toba Tek Singh is a city and district in punjab province of Pakistan. The place gets its identity from a saint named Baba Tek Singh who was known for his kindness and generosity. It is believed that he used to serve water from a garha (pot) to the thirsty travellers, irrespective of their identity.
The original spot where he is believed to have sat and served the thirsty travelers is situated near the railway station.
Here are some photos that capture the present of this historical place.
The Railway Station of Toba Tek Singh – Toba Tek Singh is an important train junction.
The Municipal Committee of Toba Tek Singh
Toba Tek Singh has many higher education institutes – Photo of Toba Tek Singh Campus of University of Agriculture, Faislabad. Agriculture remains to be an important occupation of residents of Toba Tek Singh.
Out and Around Toba Tek Singh of Today (Photos from Gojra City, Toba Tek Singh district)
Toba Tek Singh is also a popular place because it has featured in stories of popular authors. Among the most famous stories of legendary storyteller Saadat Hasan Manto is “Toba Tek Singh”, a story set in the time of partition. It revolves around a so-called “madman” named Bishen Singh who hailed from Toba Tek Singh.
Anything to add to this story? Share in comments.
Write a photo blog for your city and send to email@example.com
Umair Ahmad is from Toba Tek Singh. He is a peace activist and advocate. He is the Toba Tek Singh Co-ordinator of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.