Why Independence Day Will Always be Bittersweet For Me
When Indians and Pakistanis celebrate their independence, I think about the losses we suffered.
Several years ago, Azra Naheed and her husband, Khwaja Riaz were crossing Amritsar and going to Calcutta to meet Khwaja Mushtaque, Riaz’s brother. When they reached Amritsar, Riaz realized that he had not been to the city for ages. He then decided to take his wife to a part of town which she had never visited, despite being born in the city.
After hours of search and plenty of asking around, Riaz, a carpet maker of Lahore who was lovingly called Haji Sahib, spotted a familiar sight. “He told me that everything had changed but not the few houses that were there when he was a kid who would run around these very lanes,” she said.
But before he could go near his destination, Riaz asked the rickshaw driver to stop at the entrance of a particular gali. “There,” he pointed to a house. “That is where I was born. My home. Our home. The home we left behind in 1947!”
Khwaja Riaz was my Nana (maternal grandfather). He was like the thousands who lost not just their homes, but a life in the partition or the ‘batwara’ that divided the nation of Hindustan into two.
The ‘India Waale Uncle’
My Nani (maternal grandmother) told me this story a few years ago. She also told me that my Nana never got down from the rickshaw to go near the house where he was born. “He couldn’t muster enough courage.”
It seems that some pasts are better left untouched.
There have been several articles on Partition. Books can tell us more about those godless days when men, women and children had to leave their land in search of a promised land. Not many of them survived the journey.
Thankfully my family did.
My Dada (paternal grandfather), who was in India at that time, decided to stay. He was the lone Indian in our extended family and became the “India wale Uncle” for my uncles and aunts.
I have no immediate family here in India. Everyone lives on the other side.
Imagine waiting for months to meet your relatives, especially since there is a strict rule which disallows us from crossing the border before 12 months have passed to the last journey. We have to wait for months just to talk to our closest relatives and to know about their lives.
Before the internet and the technology of video calling, the only interaction we could have was on the phone. It used to be a rare affair, something I always looked forward to.
The Loss of Your Home Cannot be Compensated
Once a month, my mother and I would often look for a phone booth to call my Nani. The phone calls were usually about exchanging pleasantries and talking about the most immediate issues at hand for these phone calls were short and really expensive.
Letters were our best friends then. My mother would receive letters written in Urdu from her mother and we would get birthday cards. It was another matter that these cards used to reach us days after our birthdays were over.
From good academic results to news of a child’s birth, we got it all from the letters.
During this phase, what we dreaded the most was the phone calls late in the night. These calls would be considered an ill omen as they would always bear the death of someone close.
It was in early 2000s when the phone at my Nani’s home rang at three in the morning, that we knew that something bad had happened. My Dada had passed away when I was in Lahore.
The division of land had left us bereft of even mourning in peace.
So when Indians and Pakistanis enjoy their independence, I think about the losses that we suffered. The loss of your home, your culture, is something cannot be compensated.
Independence for me shall always be bittersweet.
The Futility of Partition
For me, partition is all about the unspoken pangs, something immortalised in a couplet that was read by IK Gujral, former Prime Minister of India, while taking his oath of office.
‘Ye jabr bhi dekha hai taarikh ki nazron ne
Lamhon ne khata ki thi sadiyon ne saza paai’
(History has witnessed this tragedy;
Centuries are bearing the brunt of mistakes made in a few moments)
This couplet was by Urdu poet Muzaffar Razmi possibly talks about the futility of partition. Gujral too had lost his home in the Jhelum district of Punjab.
(The author is a 25-year-old resident of Kolkata. The views expressed above are of the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor takes responsibility for the same.)
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