Ashok Lalla essays his mother’s experience of migrating from Karachi to Bombay, during the Partition of India. 

When the clock struck 12 on the night of August 14, 1947, Mira was an 11-year-old schoolgirl in Karachi. She recalled huddling around a radiogram along with her mother and 16-year old brother, Tirath to listen to Pandit Nehru’s historic “At the stroke of the midnight hour as the world sleeps…” address to a free India.

The days in the lead-up to independence were filled with questions, anxieties, fears and rumours about what will happen. “Partition” was discussed by the elders in hushed tones, wrought with fear and uncertainty. The only social networks then were the word-of-mouth messages that criss-crossed India and reached their ears in Karachi, often garbled and misquoted like Chinese whispers. They also had to make do with days old news that appeared in the newspapers, since it was still long years before live breaking news became a thing.

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Mira’s family was fortunate to not have to entirely rely on the truths and half-truths emerging about the impending Partition. Her maternal grandfather was the Governor of Sindh, the only Indian Governor among otherwise British Governors across the provinces of undivided India. Mira and her family lived with the inside knowledge of what might happen post partition.

The days in the lead-up to independence were filled with questions, anxieties, fears and rumours about what will happen. “Partition” was discussed by the elders in hushed tones, wrought with fear and uncertainty.

However, no one foresaw the chaos and violence and bloodshed that followed India’s independence from the British. There was looting and killing, and even their own home was not spared from persons who walked in and made away with choice artifacts and furniture. Thankfully, no physical harm came to young Mira or her small family.

Soon it was clear that they would have to leave their home of many, long years and cross over to India. Arrangements were made to move the family out of Karachi. Mira’s grandfather used his official position and connections to ensure a smooth journey for his daughter and her two children. The family was provided with a police escort from their home to Karachi port and then again in Bombay. They made the trip to Bombay in a steamship in a cabin with a view. As the sun set that evening in Karachi, it also literally set on their life of a few generations in the city. They reached Bombay to a new dawn and to a future that was filled with questions and uncertainty.

However, no one foresaw the chaos and violence and bloodshed that followed India’s independence from the British. There was looting and killing, and even their own home was not spared from persons who walked in and made away with choice artifacts and furniture.

Their experience was a far cry though from the harsh conditions many of their friends and neighbours had to endure, virtually being tossed like cargo boxes on the decks of ships sailing to Bombay and packed into trains bursting at their seams with children, men and women huddled together.

Mira Lalla with her son.

After spending a few months with friends of the family in Bombay, Mira and her family moved to Agra where she finished school. They moved back to Bombay where she graduated in Economics from St. Xavier’s College. And soon after, she got married, and had three children, the youngest of whom is the writer of this piece. A story he has heard many times over the years and that still fills his heart with pride for what his mother went through at such a tender age. Mira passed away in 2017 at the age of 80.

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This story of Mira has been written by her son, Ashok Lalla. He tweets at @ashoklalla. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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