Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Child of Partition Remembers

 By Reena Kapoor 

(Interview of Mr. Abhay Bhushan by Reena Kappor; Camera work by Anurag Wadhera; Also present, Iram Nawaz)

Mr. Abhay Bhushan was only three years old when his family decided to leave Sukkur (now in Pakistan), move to Lahore and from there promptly to Delhi in July of 1947.  He describes this decision as a wise one prompted by his mother's good instinct that trouble was imminent and they should flee to (what was to become the new) India as soon as possible. As history shows trouble did break out soon after with much violence, suffering and tragedy on all sides.  Mr. Bhushan's family left and moved to Delhi and was soon resettled thanks to the Indian Railways where his father was employed.  Their resettlement in Delhi in the newly minted India was fortunately not as traumatic, as it was for many others. Mr. Bhushan's father had been posted to Sukkur as an employee of Indian Railways. In fact Mr. Bhushan's immediate family was from Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, India.  So when they fled to India they were returning home in a sense. Unlike many others they did not lose all they owned as a result of this flight to safety. Despite this small mercy, Mr. Bhushan and his family were witness to several incidents of horror and violence. Mr. Bhushan himself, as an impressionable three year old, witnessed the murder of a man and his horse; he also saw his father rescue a fleeing man from a mob by letting him jump in their car and dropping him off to safety. He shared many experiences that members of his larger family went through, which left many traumatized and broken for life. Mr. Bhushan expressed an oft-heard wish that partition should never have been allowed; he still feels a strong affinity for people - of all religious faiths - from that region. His passionate message to us and to younger generations is one of living in peace, finding common ground and practicing tolerance. 

I interviewed Mr. Bhushan on July 29th 2011 on a cool Friday morning in Santa Clara. This is the first interview I've done for the 1947 Partition Archive Project. Despite having done scores of customer interviews as part of my professional life, I had been nervous, excited and everything in between but overall I'd mostly been looking forward to the opportunity. This is a subject close to my heart and my childhood memories. 

He declared upfront that he was only three years old when it all happened so he did not remember too much and it was "not all that traumatic" for his family. However by the end he was quite emotional about not only the horrible tragedy that disrupted his childhood but also the deep religious divide that continues to separate a people who share so much in common -- heritage, culture, language, food.  He expressed a passionate desire that this project not only record this history but also act as a way for newer generations to heal so as to never let such a tragedy happen again. His moving testimony and desire to see peace in the sub-continent was touching and a great reminder of why I am - and as are many others - volunteering with this project.

Just such a peace is my personal hope too. In fact a friend recently commented to me that this 1947 project is about opening up old wounds. That made me take pause and think. I realized his comment was neither a criticism nor discouragement but just a statement of fact.  In fact I agree with him.  In reality that's exactly what's needed: we need to open up old wounds, expose them to sunlight and air, even let them bleed a bit, so they can then dry and heal.  Only then can we have some hope that this will be forgotten, old sins forgiven and perhaps such madness will never repeated. Many in our generation from the sub-continent have seen our parents, grandparents, friends, relatives suffer the memory of this horrific time for a lifetime, and many carry this burden even today. It's time to bring some healing.  Additionally, the capturing of history - on all sides - is critical.

When I was growing up in India the history of partition was related to me only from family members amid expression of much grief, tears and trauma - and even some animosity for the "other" side.  In school our history textbooks paid a pathetic lip service of a few dissatisfying lines to the migration. Likely a misplaced political correctness, or a fear of reigniting the insanity, led our history writers to decide that this man-made tragedy was best buried. Perhaps the fear was real and even understandable but this expunging of history has not served us well. Today we are on the verge of losing this history almost completely as the population of people who were born in and before the 1930's, 40's ages and passes on.  People on all sides still feel wronged by the events of this time, and many unfortunately continue to be at odds with each other, with little hope of mending fences; hence the importance of capturing these histories - on ALL sides - with empathy, care and an essential sense of urgency.  Timing truly is of essence.  I hope this project will have the impact we all dream of.  While time is a powerful healer it is not enough to make sure new wounds don't appear. A commitment to peace and an honest history has the power to do that. As a wise man said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".  I feel truly grateful to have this opportunity to help preserve this remembrance.


  1. I would love to read and connect with the emotions people went through...please do keep sharing...

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