Sunday, August 7, 2011

Unusual origins – A Sikh from Multan

Interview on Aug 05 2011

By Reena Kapoor

Camera, Lighting by Iram Nawaz

We interviewed Mr. Preet Mohan Singh Kapoor on August 5th 2011 in his San Ramon, CA home. Mr. Kapoor had graciously agreed to give us his time and share his family’s experiences and story. Iram Nawaz and I arrived a few minutes early to set up and get started. Pretty soon we were listening to Mr. Kapoor’s vivid descriptions of pre-partition life in the Lyallpur, Multan (now in Pakistan); and then he recounted how his family moved, just before partition, to Faridkot and Delhi and finally settled in Panipat after partition was announced.

Mr. Kapoor relied on his own remarkable young memory, as well as on accounts from family members that he had heard repeated over the years.  All of us with parents or other older family members who encountered partition know exactly what this means – you grow up hearing the stories of partition over and over again and pretty soon they are ingrained in your psyche as if you had been there.

Mr. Kapoor was only three years old when his entire extended family decided to leave their ancestral home in the Multan region and move initially to Faridkot (India). They were unusual in that there were very few Sikhs in Multan; in fact Mr. Kapoor is still unique as a Sikh in that he speaks a little Multani (language). In the summer of 1947, partition had not yet been announced but the air was rife with talk of trouble.  Many people like Mr. Kapoor's family left their homes thinking that once political negotiations were settled and communal tensions calmed, they would be able to return home. But that was not to be. Partition was announced only a few months later and in August 1947 all hell broke loose. Mr. Kapoor never went back.

Eventually the whole family resettled in Panipat and started a new life there. Mr. Kapoor recounted many incredible challenges they faced in their efforts to restart their lives; there was no running water or even electricity for many years in their home. It was inspiring to hear these stories and appreciate – as I have come to over the years – the strength and resilience of dislocated survivors to rebuild their lives from scratch. I thank Mr. Kapoor for welcoming us into his home, taking time out of his schedule and sharing these stories with us.

It is inspiring, enlightening – and sometimes incredibly saddening – to conduct these interviews and listen to these extraordinary stories. All in all I feel lucky to have this opportunity.  But sometimes during these serious encounters there are also moments of hilarity and lightness.  In an effort to capture these accounts with excellent quality audio and video we insist that we find a quiet room where we can interview our subjects uninterrupted. This was the case with Mr. Kapoor as well, which he and his wife fully accommodated.  However during the interview we did have some close calls, which in retrospect were quite funny.  At one point their son entered the home singing loudly, but quickly caught himself and we were able to recover and go on. And then right smack in the middle of the interview we heard loud cackling from the next room followed by high pitched “Hello, hello, hello” like someone was making prank phone call.  Iram and I both looked at each other in horror.  I continued the interview but Iram, my intrepid and smart partner, walked over to the next room and then came back apparently having quieted things down.  We did not hear these sounds again and I continued on wondering what had happened.  Once the interview ended Iram said with a twinkle, “Mr. Kapoor your parrot was quite a challenge…”, which is when I realized it was the talking bird that had interrupted us. Mr. Kapoor said, “Yes he loves to talk to anyone walking by the window!”. We could not help but burst out laughing.

Note:  Mr. Preet Mohan Singh Kapoor is not related to Reena Kapoor.