Some memories are forgotten with time while some leave a painful brand in their recollection. Years after the Partition, a daughter hears the story of her mother’s life, of the Quetta Earthquake, the Partition and the life lived in between. The mother speaks about the lilting rhythms of Punjabi folk songs, the Siapewalli, and Naani wailing about her bad kismet caused by the chudail and dain. And as the daughter listens, she begins to write. Reena Nanda makes Shakunt’s life account indelible in the pages of From Quetta to Delhi: A Partition Story. SheThePeople.Tv converses with the author about her mother’s recollection of history.
Shakunt Nanda (née Malik)’s father was an agnostic while her mother was a devotee of Guru Nanak and pilgrimages to Sufi shrines. This heritage of a common space of shared religious practices – an ethos of veneration of Gurus, Pirs and Sants – was later destroyed by the politics of concretised religious identities but, Mrs Nanda told her daughter stories of the past, knowing that there would come a time when people will forget how they once lived. Reena Nanda recorded Shakunt’s story as she read histories, geographies, gazetteers, census reports, oral interviews and Punjabi literature, ensuring that she did justice to the account of her mother’s life and history.
Mrs Nanda recalls, in the book, that there was something unforgettable about Quetta and the people who lived there. She reminisces about the landscape and the people’s cosmopolitan outreach. The locals’ – the Baloch, the Brahui, the Pathans, the Parsis, the Jews and the Bengalis – free and fearless attitude towards life. She remembers evenings spent by the pretty Hannah lake on the outskirts of the city. How the wonderful climate felt and the sweet taste of the fruits.
The people recovered from the Quetta earthquake, but they could never completely heal from the Partition.
Shakunt tried to forget the horrors and massacres of the Partition while remembering the love and affection extended by her Pathan friends. She loved her homeland so much that she forgave its weaknesses. Reena Nanda notes that – in interviews – the men tend to remember the worst. They talk about the killings, and the sacrificing of their women in order to save them. The women, on the other hand, recall the events of their life in the past. The talk about the little societal elements, the customary but not legal laws, and the way that people lived. “Theirs is not just a political perspective,” says Reena.
According to the author, our textbooks have to tell an unbiased account of the Partition. They need to speak of the rigid stand of the Arya Samaj and the Singh Sabha, which first created a division between the Hindus and the Sikhs, and thereby changed the common space of shared religious practices. The animosity between the Muslims and the Hindus was limited to the orthodox people in both communities, and albeit fanned by their fanatic preachers, it was not widespread amongst the common people. However, as these religious leaders were co-opted by the politicians, the ill feelings became more widespread. Another factor was that the Hindus and Sikhs controlled trade and commerce and were wealthier than the majority of the Muslims. The British used these elements to their advantage.
The animosity between the Muslims and the Hindus was limited to the orthodox people in both communities, and albeit fanned by their fanatic preachers, it was not widespread amongst the common people.
Reena Nanda draws parallels from the Partition to contemporary India, where political parties use a divisive religious agenda – when it comes to food, marriage and housing – to garner the votes of the majority and minority communities. “This gradually builds up and vitiates the atmosphere. Then the politicians reap the harvest,” comments Reena.
By introducing separate electorates, the British sowed the poison of numerical enumeration of communities in Punjab, which paved the way for the Partition. Religious enmity gave them the perfect excuse and the Indian Muslim, Hindu and Sikh politicians played right into their hands. The textbooks must explain this – The Partition was not due to Jinnah or Nehru, but many circumstances that defeated even Mahatma Gandhi (who could not stop it).
Reena traces history through her mother’s eyes in From Quetta to Delhi, recalling her journey from Jhang to Quetta to Lahore to Delhi. From a time where Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs lived together, bound in the cross-religious-biradaris of their local communities. She writes about the older pluralist, multi-religious, multi-cultural way of living together, a civilisation that the author’s family and millions of other refugees mourned. She records the unpopular history of how the common Punjabi was marginalised and a victim of political power and positions, their protests silenced under propaganda. This text is a feminine recall of a life lived and rebuilt, written in both fact and fiction. It tells of a generation that Partition made lost – to their culture and history.
This text is a feminine recall of a life lived and rebuilt, written in both fact and fiction. It tells of a generation that Partition made lost – to their culture and history.
“My mother bequeathed us a narrative of love for her homeland – which is now Pakistan – and she taught us to separate the political enmity from the personal relationships with Pakistani Punjabis, for whom we do not harbour any hatred. We are both victims of the politics of our two nations. And the lesson to be drawn is that we should not allow political leaders to use religion to separate us because of their own selfish desire for power,” says the author.
There are answers to be found, especially for younger generations, in From Quetta to Delhi: A Partition Story. People can learn about how Indian religious linguistic and social diversity survived for generations, how Punjabiyat endured and of the invisible cost of the Partition.
The author notes in the book’s foreword –
“The best monument to Partition would be to spread narratives of friendships and bonds for future generations of Pakistanis and Indians.”
Where did you first learn of the Partition and how many accounts of the division did you have to hear – before you saw it for what it really was?
Feature Image Credit: Bloomsbury Publishing India
From Quetta to Delhi: A Partition Story, by Reena Nanda, has been published by Bloomsbury Publishing India. It is priced at Rs.350 and is available online and in bookstores.
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