Sunday, November 11, 2012
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.