Partition of the subcontinent tore the social fabric of the region
but there were scores among the sufferers who rose to rebuild the nation.
Divided by Partition, United by Resilience
21 Inspirational Stories from 1947
By Mallika Ahluwalia
Rupa Publications India, New Delhi
182 pages, Price Rs. 295
Reviewed by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
All those who would go through this book would agree that Partition should never have happened and nothing of that sort should befall humanity in future anywhere else.
The Partition of the Indian subcontinent was unfortunate. The wounds it inflicted on the social fabric were deep and still have the potential of getting ruptured and refreshed whenever there is a conflict like situation between India and Pakistan. We need to look back all the time, lest we forget the horrendous consequences of the communal polarization.
Divided by Partition, United by Resilience does just that. Author Mallika Ahluwalia, curator and the CEO of the Partition Museum at Amritsar, has profiled 21 noted personalities who were eye-witness of the mayhem that followed the 1947 Partition on communal lines. Barring one, they sailed through blood and gore to leave their home, property, and relationships and headed for India to rebuild their lives. The individuals include former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh; former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishan Advani; former Delhi Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana; veteran athlete Milkha Singh; Writer Ajeet Caur; journalist Kuldip Nayar; Filmmaker Govind Nihalani; famous Lawyer Ram Jethmalani; famous Painters Satish Gujral, Kishen Khanna and Anjolie Ela Menon; and, noted entrepreneur Dharampal Gulati. The list also includes Hamida Habibullah many of whose family members migrated to Pakistan, noted lyricist Gulzar who was born on that side of the border and had settled in Delhi several years ago and pioneer of Bengali Dalit literature Manoranjan Byapari. In between them are thrown a few businessmen, bureaucrats and men who rose to high positions in India.
Lava of communal hatred
These men and women were part of what has been termed the largest mass translocation of the humanity on the face of the Earth. Not merely were they victims of sudden burst of communal frenzy, looting and burning of their property and rape of the womenfolk, but were guided by the indomitable spirit to reconstruct their lives alongside making valuable contribution to nation-building. They are all unanimous that the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had lived in perfect amity for centuries and practiced syncretic traditions handed down from their ancestors. They did not foresee Partition happening. Their hopes were belied, nay shattered. The ones who were charting the future trajectory for the two nations were either caught unawares and had no inkling of the lava of hate they had churned up on the road to realization of the freed nations. Or was it a case of miscalculation or mismanagement on the part of the British who were holding the reins of administration? There are no easy answers for such queries now that the fog of the time has rendered the past so fuzzy.
Most narratives of the murder and mayhem are chilling and make the reader livid. Manmohan Singh who lived in Rawalpindi, had received a four-word telegram telling: “Father killed, mother safe” from his uncle in Chakwal about grandfather and grandmother who were the actual guardians of Singh, his mother having passed away at the age of three. ‘The Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh, a native of Gobindpura village near Multan, witnessed his parents being butchered by a blood-thirsty Muslim mob together with scores of other Hindus and Sikhs. He escaped and slept between corpses on his way to Delhi. Lyricist Gulzar saw a Muslim student who was musically talented and who led prayers in the school in Delhi, being taken by one Samandar Singh, to be killed behind the Roshanara Bagh. His wordings, “The boy was being dragged and was not protesting even meekly”, can curdle up blood in the veins. “I cried up all the night, I remember,” he says in an interview. Dharampal Gulati, the billionaire owner of the MDH masalas says: “At the River (Ravi), the stench of corpses was unbearable,”. Painter Kishen Khanna’s family left Lahore when their loyal servant Ghulam Ali got scent of the riots and told them: “Sahib, aap chale jaayein, maamla garam hone waala hai, log aane waale hain”, (Sir, you should go away, things will get ugly, people are coming). The family packed off for Simla the next day. Says Madan Lal Khurana: “I saw naked dance of death, the arson and mindless looting happening right in front of me. Hindus and Muslims were thirsty for each others’ blood. Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recalls that he had got his arm tattooed with a crescent and star in deference to the wish of his Muslim friend. “This led to rumours in the train I had taken to Delhi. A mob pulled me out at Ludhiana Station and was about to be lynched. But luckily, someone who knew my (doctor) father from Sialkot, came forward and saved me”.
Communal venom, hyperbole, speeches, Nara e Takbeer and Har Har Mahadev apart, all was not lost. Army Commander Ayub Khan (later President of Pakistan) sent an Army convoy to save his Hindu friend helplessly stuck in a crossfire. Ram Jethmalani, a partner with Allahbuksh Brohi in Brohi and Co Law firm, was helped by him for a safe passage to Bombay and exchange of houses with a Muslim family which intended to migrate to Karachi. Years later Jethmalani and Brohi went up to become Law Ministers of their respective countries. Raja Ghazanfar Ali, a member of the Punjab Assembly insisted that family of Satish Gujral (brother of later Prime Minister of India Inder Gujral) stayed in Pakistan. But when it became impossible, he provided escort to the family to cross the border.
That many of these worthies could cross the border amid unprecedented mayhem, retained their sense of bonhomie against the communities whose individuals perpetrated the atrocities and vowed never to betray vengeance is an ode to their humane instincts. Their struggle against the formidable odds and dislocation and dedicated engagement with nation-building has been brought to relief graphically.
The book should be a must-read for all those who harbor the vision of serving the nation with commitment to equity and justice and without prejudice against anyone. Destructive potential of religious rhetoric in inflaming passions is too apparent to be missed. The text is easy and fluent. The Partition Museum deserves kudos in compiling the accounts of sufferings during Partition of a select group of individuals who rose to glorious heights in imparting strength to the new nation-state India that emerged out of the mess. One is not sure if similar attempt has been attempted on the other side of the border. If not yet, it will be worthwhile to do that.