Partition. A simple word used to capture the seismic change in the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
The word feels sterile, devoid of emotion, whitewashing over the atrocities committed, the thousands slaughtered in the name of religion as boundaries were hurriedly and crudely drawn by the British, their great imperial country left ravaged and bankrupted by war.
How aware were the powers that be that communities, families, friendships would be ripped apart?
Desperate times lead to desperate measures, but the horrific chaos leading up to Indian independence, the partition of India and the birth of Pakistan defies belief.
While it made every sense for India to achieve independence, the way it was conceived seems as if those involved – the British, Congress and the Muslim League – made their decisions with their heads buried in the sand. Because Partition fails to convey the displacement of over 14 million people.
Speak to anyone from either country and they will mention tales of family and friends caught up in the nightmare of Partition.
They will recall friendships that were cast away; or friends who risked their lives to save lives; they will speak of good-natured neighbours who turned their backs; and those who helped them.
They will tell stories of refugee camps, overcrowded and overrun with disease.
They will turn mute when remembering horrors they’ve tried hard to forget, shed tears for loved ones lost and those they found.
Short story: A Pakistani homecoming
My mother’s family was impacted. Not in the obvious way. Yes, they were forced to leave their home, but not in 1947. Afterwards. One year later.
My mother’s family lived in Hyderabad Deccan in a beautiful house commissioned by my nana abba, Syed Taqquidin, then the Finance Secretary to the Nizam of Hyderabad.
He chose the name, Bustan, in reference to both the Farsi for fragrant garden, and the book of poetry by the Persian poet, Saadi.
Bustan was arranged around a series of courtyards with fountains and surrounded by landscaped gardens filled with bougainvillea and an abundance of falsa, fig, mango and grapefruit trees.
Peacocks walked freely. Deer roamed in fields at the back of the property. A small herd of buffalo provided milk for the family; there were horses and chickens.
The children kept rabbits, too, and a snowy Persian cat strolled about the gardens as though she owned the place.
Inside, the two most prominent rooms were the library, filled with a collection of Persian, Urdu and Arabic literature, my nana abba’s pride and joy; and, the dining room where my nana abba ensured family and friends were well fed.
He was the nucleus of the family, renowned for his generosity and hospitality, and Bustan came to be a home-from-home for family and friends who were passing through or needed a roof over their heads.
For the first nine years of my mother’s life this house was all she knew. She has memories of hiding with her elder brother among the fruit trees after stealing halwa from the dining room; of showering Muhammed Ali Jinnah with rose petals and singing to him when he came to visit; of lying under the stars on charpoys, lulled to sleep by a symphony of crickets. It was an idyllic, luxurious life.
In September 1948, all that came to an end.