Recently, a friend and I have been seeking and sharing published accounts from the era of India's Partition in 1947. We often message each other electronic links to blogs, write-ups, book excerpts and podcasts chronicling the experiences of those who witnessed and survived the horrors of the events of Partition. These stories are often deftly narrated, using simple words that seldom fail to arouse an array of profound emotions in their readers. They make you empathise with the turmoil and tragedy faced by an entire generation that suffered loss and displacement. They also make you applaud their resilience to resurrect their lives from the ruins of adversity.
However, as post-independence India turned 70 this year, I became acutely aware that many of those who survived Partition may not be around for long. Their stories of Partition and the struggle for independence, however, should not perish with them.
The monarchs always tell tales of glory and triumph. It is not until you have heard the testimonies of ordinary men and women... that you can derive a true depiction of those times.
The time of India's independence in 1947 was as sombre as it was jubilant. The chimes of impending freedom brought with them unparalleled savagery as the country was shredded into two parts, leading to the birth of Pakistan. A freshly independent India and newly christened Pakistan both endured a callous beginning—one marked by bloodshed and loss. By the time both India and Pakistan stopped to catch a breath and take stock of their newfound freedom, thousands had been butchered in cold blood across the newly etched borders during what is regarded as one of the biggest human displacements in modern history.
Not long after the borders had been fenced, and the blood wiped off the divided land, India and Pakistan had turned into two hostile neighbours, destined to be foes for an eternity. The scars of Partition must have dampened any elation about being freed from the British for those who had lived through its horrors.
The tales of Partition are often gruesome, laced with plunder and violence of barbaric proportions. They are accounts of human misery and utter helplessness. Of widows, orphans, and the dead—too many of them to count. The heartbreak of those who were forever wrenched away from their loved ones. Tales of childhood friendships cut short by the newly etched border in 1947. Time, they say is the best healer, yet, the agony and the hurt in the eyes and in the voices of those who have endured these horrendous times haven't faded over the years. Each time they narrate their stories, their eyes well up as they revisit the horrors inflicted upon them for no fault of theirs.
Yet, scattered amongst these Partition stories of tragedy and misfortune are accounts of goodness, camaraderie, and brotherhood. Ordinary citizens who risked their life and limb to protect others from rioting mobs. Orphans left behind by the Partition massacres being adopted and raised by families in both India and Pakistan. Heart-warming stories of separated siblings and families re-united years after Partition.
Seventy years on, as the real heroes of these stories grow old and feeble, it is up to the rest of us to hold on to their legacy.
Countries are political creatures, born out of the desires of men and women who crave kingdoms. India and Pakistan are no different in their origins. The monarchs always tell tales of glory and triumph. It is not until you have heard the testimonies of ordinary men and women subjected to the ruthless regimes of these monarchs that you can derive a true depiction of those times. The Partition memoirs of ordinary folk in both India and Pakistan reveal the real impact of the events of 1947. They may break down while recounting their ordeals, yet they are brave enough to rebuke those who were trusted to safeguard citizens, and failed to do so in 1947. They speak of an era that will never return, yet they are ghastly warnings against such bloodshed in future.
Seventy years on, as the real heroes of these stories grow old and feeble, it is up to the rest of us to hold on to their legacy. It is up to us to safeguard their stories and pass them on to the next generation for whom India's independence will be a mere academic milestone.
So, let's all dig out these tales of Partition and use them as a beacon to usher in India's next generation.