Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reliving Partition in 1990 – Lahore, Pakistan

By Iram Nawaz

I grew up listening to stories about the Partition from my maternal grandmother. Stories of friendship,
spirituality, a loving multi-religious community, of visits to fairs and at times even the cinema. These
stories would then change into stories of loss, lament and of missing old Hindu and Sikh friends.

My maternal grandmother, Mahmooda Begum, started showing signs of dementia in 1990. Her
condition worsened quickly within a few short months and soon, my docile Nano became an angry,
agitated woman scared for her and her children’s safety.

We knew she had dementia – and later realized that in her head her reality had become Amritsar,
August 1947. And it is here that I witnessed Partition at first hand in 1990. Before our eyes, Nano was
reliving the traumatic time of the Partition where she, a young woman with 4 small children, had to find
a way to cross the border to family in either Lahore or Sialkot.

I felt Nano’s agitation, her concern for her Sikh neighbors, her trying to contact her family in Srinagar
to see if they were safe and sound. Nano started calling me Razia (her cousin) and would ask, “How can we leave Amritsar? How can I travel with 4 children? What will become of us? Why are there no army trucks coming in?”

All night long we would hold Nano’s hand, press her forehead and say, “The trucks will come tomorrow. We will get on them and go to Lahore, don’t worry”.

Then a time came when we had to medicate her heavily - she had started picking up her pillow (her
suitcase) running and screaming out for her children, “Qamar, Adiba, Ifthikar, Nasira truck aa giya hai,
chalo!” (The truck is here, lets go!)

As it turns out Nano flagged down a bus in Amritsar and the bus driver asked her, “Baji, aap Ahmedi
ho?” (Sister, are you an Ahmedi?) Nano who was a Sunni Muslim with a Sikh great grandmother
said, “Yes, I am an Ahmedi!” With that she got on the bus with her 4 children, and they crossed the
border and went straight to Rabwah. Her family got news of her and brought her back to Lahore.

Nano died peacefully on April 3rd 1990 in Lahore in her daughter Nasira’s (my mother) house. To this day I remember her sadness of our treatment and persecution of Ahmedis, for they were a community who had helped her. Her yearly visits to Nankana Sahib to pay respects to Guru Nanak jee, her quoting Shia stories of Karbala, her passion for Sant Kabir and Baba Bhulleh Shah’s universal love for mankind despite religious differences have helped form in me a better understanding of human compassion.

My work in the 1947 Partition Archive is my way of paying respect to the memory of Mehmooda Begum, to her loving Hindu and Sikh girlfriends, and to the communities that were torn asunder in August 1947.

About Iram Nawaz: Iram is a technical editor and writer and has recently moved from Seattle to the San Francisco Bay Area. She has a degree in Publishing from the UK. Originally from Lahore, she grew up in Dubai, UAE. Dubai’s multi-cultural community has given Iram an international exposure that she is grateful for. She believes that people are social beings and not islands, and is passionate about bridging the gap between communities. She works and lives in
the Silicon Valley.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Story Collector's Privilege -- by Reena Kapoor

"...and that's when it got bad..." he said and started to sob. Like a child, with big tears rolling down his cheeks, his face crumpled. He tried to wipe them away but they kept coming. We all paused. I did not say anything for several moments and then he said, "I'm sorry..." and continued to cry. The camera kept rolling. I was not surprised, nor embarrassed. Strangely he did not seem self-conscious either. "It's okay. Please take your time" was all I said. Here I was interviewing a man – my father's age – who was now crying. It was a little while before he went on to tell us the horrific – and unfortunately all too common – story of how his family was uprooted, forced to flee and reduced to destitution as a result of the Partition of India in 1947.

This was not a unique or unusual story. I have now conducted several interviews – all of people of my parents' generation – for the 1947 Partition Archive, and there has never been a dry eye on camera.  In this case our interviewee said he had not shared these stories even with his children. This is not uncommon either. And this is part of what makes being an interviewer for this project such a privilege.  We are recording the oral history of Partition by talking to people who witnessed and experienced it – on all sides. Our agenda is as simple as that.  But what I’ve witnessed is the telling of people’s worst nightmares come true, the demons that haunt even today but ultimately their resilience and fortitude in building new lives and gleaning often the noblest of life's lessons.

When I first volunteered for this project and started to interview people about their experiences related to Partition, I was excited about recording these stories, helping archive their personal narrative to preserve for future generations the lessons of history.  But as I've conducted these interviews, I have truly come to cherish the privilege of helping people tell each of their stories for their own sake. This project is about making sure that this important history is not lost.  But it is also at least in some way about healing old wounds.

My own story – like that of many Punjabis in India – is at least indirectly related to the Partition of India. I grew up in a Punjabi family where the adults often talked of their life before Partition, the horrors they witnessed during those terrible months and the rebuilding of lives in a new land. As I grew up I realized these stories must mirror stories on all sides. I was also struck by the lack of context and detail in most of our history books, which seemed to only pay lip service to these events. My sense was this was a horror created by mixing religion and politics – at their lowliest worst – and one, which should never be repeated. Yet there was also this personal sense of loss that people who experienced this never quite seemed to recover from. Perhaps one cannot ever reconcile with such a horror; perhaps the demons never leave you completely. I don't know and I cannot know since I have only heard these stories. But what I do believe is that if healing is to ever begin, and if we have a chance to make sure that these horrors are not repeated, then hiding from history cannot be the answer. And it is with that idea along with the admiration I have for those who have courageously shared their stories with us, that I feel honored to play a small part in this endeavor.