15 August 1947.
A date to be remembered eternally by the inhabitants of India and Pakistan. It
was a tryst of life and death, a scramble for preservation of identity and honor.
While the didactic and legislative attributes of this partition have been memorialized in multiple books as well as museums, those who viewed the unfolding of these events remember it first-hand as an anthology of trauma and agony. These memories of disquiet and paranoia are inscribed into the families of those displaced and left vulnerable, every scar commemorated, and each tear shed pulverized into folklore for the children of millennia to come. The lineage of refugees and those of the partition diaspora, carry with them the past never told, their reminisces intangible and aged, and yet preserved.
I belong to an aged ménage of one of the many families who fled from Pakistan during the partition. My predecessors belonged to the myriad inhabitants of Peshawar who absconded or succumbed to death, leaving behind everything they knew – fearful yet proudly donning their Kesari turbans as they marched towards a world unbeknownst to them.
Here is a florilegium of untold stories and recounted experiences of my family
which deserve to see the light of the day:
Part I: The Obliterated Progeny
̃Peshawar, 1947 ̃
Mayhem spread about as people scrambled to seize space in the overcrowded compartments of the train, its coach bursting at the seams. The congestion was such that even the air struggled to breathe. Infants wailed in the heat while their mothers struggled to calm them by feeding paltry titbits of grain and Gur. Suddenly, the loud resonating sound of the train’s honk was heard. Anxiety and apprehension spread as people started to run and push. Amongst such chaos were two children, four and five years of age. Their cheeks were streaked with tears and their face stricken with fear as they watched the train leave with their family, taking everyone they loved to unchartered territory. They stood there monotonous, watching the leftover people shove and sprint after the residual fumes of the train long gone.
“Bebe kitthe gai!” the child was wracked with sobs as he wondered about the whereabouts of his astray mother. His elder brother patted his back as he hiccupped, his mouth dry from the dust of the platform floor. No other trains had been commissioned for weeks, and the offsprings of erstwhile proud landowners were reduced to derelict vagabonds. They had started eating scraps given by passers-by and slept on the benches. Each day elapsed in a delusional haze of humidity, grime, and inanition. Time felt like it was streamlined, where they seemed to be frozen in desolation.
“Veer ji utho!” the child shook his brother. It was past midnight; the station was enveloped in the murky darkness of a new moon. It was eerily silent, and the shrill hissing sound of a train cut through the stillness.
The children scrambled to their feet, drowsy eyed yet wary. Their hearts thudded in anticipation, heartbeat pulsating in their ears. They did not know if it was a treacherous mirage tempting them with their Achilles’ heel, or if they were finally receiving redemption. Suddenly, they were both running as fast as they could, the air pinching their faces. They climbed atop a carriage just as the train was slowing down. They felt elation more than they had ever felt, and tears streamed down their faces, dripping to the besmirched floor as they sat between containers and packed utensils, and succumbed to sweet slumber.
The train came to a sudden halt, waking them up. Sunlight streamed through the slanting windows, warming their aching limbs. The bygone progeny looked out at a big board standing at the edge of a platform, the words indecipherable. Yet one object stood out. It was a flag blowing in the wind, it’s saffron vibrant and green eloquent. A silver of white cloth shined beneath.
They smiled, toothy childish grins of jubilation.
They were liberated. They were home.
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