PERSONAL HISTORIES AND MORE
As the grueling summer sets in, I am reminded of my days in school when the month of May came with the much needed respite from textbooks, surprise tests, failed attempts to understand algebra and many such activities that my regimented and monotonous school life had to offer. What followed was an ephemeral joy of discovering Jane Austen, Jules Verne, R.L. Stevenson and Louisa May Alcott, who kept me good company during those dry and arid afternoons. Summers were also a time for grand parents and their stories, encompassing everything from Hindu mythology to fairytales. My grandfather, or dadaji, as I fondly called him, did not believe in drawing influences from tales that were not real. His stories were narratives from his own life, with every experience being a lesson to be learnt. One such summer, he shared a portentous experience of his life . While my fellow classmates busied themselves in finishing their holiday assignments, I, choosing to ignore the need to improve my weak mathematical skills, sat on his lap and heard out the story of my family’s migration. A migration that began in a village, now located in Pakistan, and ended in a tent at a refugee camp in Delhi. The story, now imprinted in my mind, was to surreptitiously shape my personal and professional life.
It was in 1947 that my family found itself at the doorstep of history. While living a life, full of contentment and luxury, with his wife and two daughters in Lahore, my dadaji was perhaps oblivious of the political turmoil brewing between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, two significant parties leading India’s struggle for independence. The demand for a separate state for the Muslims was an ongoing one and was eventually realized after the passage of many government acts, missions and direct action days!
As Sir Cyrill Radcliffe, Chairman of the Border Commission, demarcated the line between India and Pakistan, my dadaji hurriedly packed, wanting to catch the next train to Amritsar. In a state of disquietude, he left his home of many years, escaping the prying eyes of his neighbors, who may now have turned his enemies. Having survived history’s bloodiest migration, he first made his way to Delhi and then to Lucknow, where he would give his family a new life and a new belonging. Years later when my brother and I were born, we were made to believe and accept that our roots lay in Lucknow, when actually they were far away in a country with whom we have fought many a wars and continue to be at political loggerheads.
My family made no contribution to any events leading to the partition of the country. Their signatures and names do not appear on any essential governmental documents, pertaining to the partition. Whether my dadaji wanted to be uprooted and displaced from his native village, his place of birth, his physical and emotional anchorage, did not matter to those chalking out a division plan in their corridors of power.
However, does that relegate his presence in history? Study of history in India is isolated in the periodic shells of Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Battles, leaders, movements overcast many a histories, hitherto hidden and untold. Beneath our monuments are buried personal histories of individuals, families, who may not have delivered a momentous speech but their lives closely intertwined with an epoch making event. The partition became that event for dadaji and my family. Their story of this gory migration remains unwritten and unheard.
My dadaji is no more and his presence is dearly missed, especially during dry summer afternoons, when his tales of personal experiences provided lessons for life. It’s summer again and I have no school duties to render to, thankfully! It’s perhaps time to unshackle the historian within me, caught between the Mughals and the British, and bring to fore my dadaji’s personal history, the story of my family’s long journey from Pakistan to India. Delving into this personal history, will also bring about a discovery of my own belonging, not in Lucknow, not in Delhi, but deeply rooted in my dadaji’s narrative of the partition.