Most people who lived through Partition are understandably hesitant to talk about it. A decade long Ford Foundation study says that one fourth of those interviewed about Partition so far have never even recounted their stories to their children. So I was pleased to find this diary type piece about Delhi in the aftermath of Partition. It’s personal.
When I was a little girl I was living in Sita Ram Bazaar in Gali Kulub Din which was at a twilight zone between Turkman Gate (an all Muslim area) and the temple of Chaurasi Ganta, the 84 bells, an all Hindu area. Both the communities met midway and had lived together happily for many centuries till the partition occurred in 1947. We had moved there in 1948, when I was four months old; however, my memories of the place date back to the time when I was four and my younger brother Ravi was about to be born in the year 1952. Several Muslim properties, belonging to the families migrated to Pakistan, were lying vacant in our street, the Gali Qutub Din. However, a sizable Muslim population had also stayed back.
It also invokes visuals. 2 things caught my attention. First was the mention of abandoned homes:
These properties were taken over by the department of custodian and re-allotted to Hindu Punjabi families migrating from Pakistan. The street contained a big Haveli belonging to some Nawabi family. In the centre of its huge courtyard stood the Tomb of the Patriarch. It must have been very painful for the owners of the haveli to leave their dear departed behind. We children often played around the tomb and marvelled at what was inside or wondered if the dead man would rise during the nights. We tried to imagine that it was haunted but it did not last for long as the custodian allotted the portions of the Haveli to five migrant Punjabi families. Other smaller houses were allotted to either a single extended family or one or two nuclear families.
Hearing about the children playing in abandoned havelis and what they thought of the abandoned homes was very different from the images my imagination had concocted after reading or watching fictional accounts. Maybe I just don’t have a very vivid imagination. The other aspect that caught my attention was the quest for a life abroad:
My early memories of the post-partition scenario are that people were just about picking up the pieces of their life. Life was hard. Almost all the Punjabi families were into some business, mostly into used car tyres and other second hand motor parts. Young Sikh youth were trying to go to U.K. and Canada. Some of them made it and others did not. I remember one sickly youth who was sent back from Heathrow airport, as he was deemed too weak to work as a factory worker. If one was strong and fit he could land a factory job in England. The branch of Ford Car Company, near Oxford alone had 27000 workers from India and Pakistan at one time. When a Sikh youth had to embark on a foreign journey all relatives pitched in bits of their savings and paid for his one-way ticket. Those were the days of poverty and struggle for the refugees. But what we must appreciate is that they were willing to help someone who could make it to the dreamland.
Comprehensive efforts have finally been launched to record stories of Partition’s survivors in India led by the Ford Foundation. Most stories I’ve run across in the past recount tragedy, of which there was plenty. All stories are always welcome, but does anyone have stories they’re willing to share of people from different communities helping each other? If not, I’m sure the Ford Foundations study’s results will be available soon enough. It’ll be interesting to see whether this oral history project has any healing effect on the sometimes strained relationships between Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh neighborhoods in India.