“Vomited out of their native soil years ago in carnage, and dumped hundreds of miles away, they had no anger left. Their only passion was memory… damned to a hell of longing.”
-Amitav Ghosh, ‘The Circle of Reason’
And this memory was a legacy passed from generation to generation, like a sacred family heirloom - not actively or vociferously, but silently, till the pain and longing was almost something congenital that one felt deep inside ones flesh and blood.
Thus, I found myself – fascinated and enchanted by the Partition even as a child; surrounded by my Great grandparents and grandparents who had lived through history; understanding childishly, its import, but not its impact. As a ten year old, Partition was a bedtime story I tried to extract from my Great grandmother at all times of the day - “Tell me the story of Partition”, I begged and pleaded till my persistence bulldozed over her reticence. With a child’s innocent, yet myopic insensitivity, I resurrected a myriad demons for her everyday – ghosts of the past that she had painstakingly laid to rest. The tales of gory escape, mere adventure for me, were a throbbing part of her daily existence; more unnatural, more alive for the silence it was wrapped in, lived and relived through the images of a homeland lost.
Stories of leaving a child behind as two parents could not carry five children in their arms to safety, and then retracing their path back through the depraved, deathly streets to find the child again, as a mother’s conscience and heart would not let her leave her child behind. Stories of overnight penury, being stripped and deprived of all possessions that you’d taken a lifetime to gain – of life as refugees, of honour and pride. Stories of hope and resilience and starting anew. Movingly romantic narratives of budding love in Chandni Chowk, hurried, sidelong, forbidden glances in that crowded, bustling market and then my grandparents’ wedding.
“There are no full stops in India”, says a character in Mark Tully’s 1991 collection of contemporary Indian parables. In a land better known for continuities and commas, partition and secession were not simply laid to rest in 1947. They continue in the bloodline, a trauma waiting to find utterance, bewildering the subsequent generations who have never been through it, but feel an unease, and an inability to react passively to even the word ‘Partition”. Growing up with it as a part of one’s consciousness, not simply saying that we “know people” who have been through it, but that these very people happen to be ones closest friends and relatives who had to leave everything behind, struggle, undergo unimaginable hardships, witness bestial, inhuman brutality and bloodshed, and still find temperance to build anew, leaves an indelible mark on the new generations.
Are we more fanatical, more vitriolic for all this? Is it simply a part of the charmed past, that we can detach from our persona and existence at our will or is it so intrinsic that we still go through with a sense of loss that finds expression sometimes in extreme animosity and anti-Pakistan sentiment, and then sometimes gets tinged with curiosity and a longing to discover ones roots."