Very often while sitting in groups, when friends share stories from the Mahabharata or Panchatantra recited by their grandparents, I am in contrast reminded of listening to real-life stories while growing up. These paint real life incidents of war and bravery, life and death, crime and hunger and about love and togetherness.
My roots are in Lahore, (now in Pakistan). Both my paternal and maternal grandparents were residents of Miyawali and Darewal districts of West Punjab before the partition in 1947. Both the families were well established. My paternal grandfather was a goldsmith and maternal grandfather used to work with the British. But the partition forced them to move to India and since last 40 years they have settled in Delhi. However, the journey from established and well-off settings in Lahore to a migrant city with no contacts and sources of livelihood is a story that has shaped me and my personality considerably.
At that time a large chunk of innocent people did not understand politics and unlike today the communication flow was limited. They did not expect that all of a sudden they would have to part their homeland though there were rumors of partition heard here and there. While talking to my grandmother, I found that she didn’t believe in such rumors and so did other villagers. But the destiny had other things in the store. Partition could not be avoided with Muslims claiming Pakistan as their home and Hindus did the same for India.
It was a violent moment in the modern history of the Subcontinent. One evening a group of people arrived with arms, shouting either they leave or face the brutality. The brave ones protested but lost their life and families broken. News spread across villages like a bushfire and without giving a second thought, my grandparents along with many thousands of Hindus residing in Pakistan packed their bags with few clothes and money and became migrants within minutes. Saving their lives and their families was the most important thing at that moment, my grandmother revealed.
They walked for miles aimlessly. For survival the only choice was food that would be dropped from helicopters. They struggled for days to access a tent to live. On many days they lived without water and food. Getting an onion and a chapatti turned out as feast. Wandering for almost 2 months, staying at refugee camps, many people on the way lost their dear ones. Death had suddenly become a common sight. There were also killings and rapes in both side of the boundary. But there was also a positive side. The violence had brought people from adjoining villages together as a group and that helped sharing emotions on daily basis. They sang, prayed and charged up with a brighter hope.
After arriving in India, many were clueless about their future. With barely empty hands, life had to start again. Destiny brought my grandparents to a small village in Rajasthan.
Today I feel proud being part of a family that had gone through intense struggle of partition and its aftermath, but had never given up hope. They flourished and created a chain of positive values that have turned into aspects of my family culture.