About the Book
In 1947, india was simultaneously freed and divide. Partition affected everyone in one way of another, but it had a particular impact on women as they struggled to put their lives back together again. How did they find their place in this land of redrawn boundaries? What was nation to them? Religion? Community? Freedom itself?
Through the stories of women and an accompanying narrative that locates them in a social and political context we get another view, from the margins as it were, of that momentous time, and look anew not only at how history gets written but at those age-old boundaries of religion, community, gender and nation.
About the Author
Ritu Menon is a publisher, and has written widely on women and media, women and violence and women and fundamentalism. She has also guest-edited a Special issue on Partition for interventions, International Journal of Post-Colonial Studies (1999).
Kamla Bhasin has been active in women and development for the last twenty five years and has written extensively on participatory training in development on women ; and on sustainable development. She is the author of numerous activist songs and non-sexist books for children.
For a long time, and certainly all the time that we were children, it was a word we heard every now and again uttered by some adult in conversation, sometimes in anger, some- times bitterly, but mostly with sorrow, voice trailing off, a resigned shake of the head, a despairing flutter of the hands. All recollections were punctuated with "before Partition" or "after Partition", marking the chronology of our family history.
We learnt to recognize this in many ways, but always with a curious sense of detachment on our part. The determined set of my grandmother's mouth as she remembered walking out of our house in Lahore, without so much as a backward glance; her un- wavering bias against "Mussaimans" and her extreme and vocal disapproval of my Muslim friends in college; the sweet nostalgia in my uncle's voice and eyes as he recalled Faiz and Firaq and Government College, and recoiled at the soulless Hindi that had displaced the supple and mellifluous Urdu of his romantic youth; the endless recreation by my mother and aunts of Anarkali and the Mall and Kinnaird and Lawrence Gardens and Impatiently we would wander off, at ease and quite at home in an India-that- was-not-Lahore, unconcerned by how we came to be here at all. Just as we hadn't known British Rule so, too, we didn't know Partition-and Pakistan was another country, anyway. What did we really have to do with it?
How effortlessly does history sometimes manage to conceal our past from us. Growing up in independent India, glorying in a freedom gained through non-violence, our gift to liberation" struggles everywhere, everything that happened pre-1947 was safely between the covers of our history books. Comfortably distant, undeniably laid to rest. Swiftly we drew the outlines of our maps-India, West Pakistan, East Pakistan, the Himalayas, Kashmir (the line wavered a bit there), Nepal. Then the rivers, cities, smaller towns. If we were required to, the climatic zones, the crops, the rainfall, everything in its place, each country neatly "belled. So, too, the litany of historic events and dates, the rise find fall of dynasties and destinies, culture, civilization, heroes and villains, martyrs and traitors. The rich tapestry unfurled to end at our tryst with destiny.
1984 changed all that. The ferocity with which Sikhs were killed in city after city in north India in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination, the confusion and shock that stunned us into disbelief and then into a terrible realization of what had happened, dispelled forever that false sense of security. Those who experienced the brutality and orchestrated fury of the attacks recalled that other cataclysmic moment in the country's recent past-a past they believed had been left behind. But here was Partition once more in our midst, terrifying for those who had passed through it in 1947 ... Yet this was our own country, our own people, our own home-grown violence. Who could we blame now?
It seemed during those days and weeks and months of trying to come to terms with what had happened, that it was no longer possible to think of Partition as something that had occurred in another country, that belonged to time past. Indeed, it seemed that we could hardly comprehend what was in our midst now without going back to what had transpired then, without excavating memory, ransacking history.
How do we know Partition except through the many ways in which it is transmitted to us, in its many representations: political, social, historical, testimonial, literary, documentary, even communal. We know it through national and family mythologies, through collective and individual memory. Partition, almost uniquely, is the one event in our recent history in which familial recall and its encoding are a significant factor in any general reconstruction of it. In a sense, it is the collective memory of thousands of displaced families on both sides of the border that have imbued a rather innocuous word-partition- with its dreadful meaning: a people violently displaced, a country divided. Partition: a metaphor for irreparable loss.
As we travelled from place to place speaking to men and women, we carried with us not only their individual memories but, in an unexpected twist, a "memory" of undivided India. In Amritsar we felt a kind of so-near-and-yet-so-farness about not being able to cross over to Lahore. Or, in Lahore, not being able to visit Sheikhupura or Mianwali, so vivid now from so many memories, not our own. This was only partly a result of listening to stories about old, old friendships and, yes, old enmities and prejudices, too. It was also a kind of rekindling of personal memory which made me locate my grandparents' home on Nisbet Road in Lahore where I, alone of all my siblings, had not been born. The impatience with memory that had marked my childhood and adolescence was replaced by something so complex that it is difficult to unravel. In Lahore, forty years after Partition, I experienced such a shock of recognition that it unsettled me. These were not places I had known or streets I had walked; they were not the stuff of "my" memories. I resisted going to Sacred Heart Convent, to Kinnaird, Anarkali, Mayo Gardens, in an attempt to dispel memory. It came flooding in.
At night, till two or three or four in the morning I would talk with friends whose families had come (gone? )to Pakistan from Rampur, Delhi, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Lucknow. As we talked we resurrected so many memories that we found ourselves interrupting each other, often anticipating what was about to be said so that the outlines became blurred again. We had to remind ourselves that we "belonged" to two different countries now. Yet, what were we remembering? None of us was old enough to have experienced Partition at first hand or to have grown up in anything other than two separate nations. So it wasn't nostalgia. And no one wanted to return to the past. But remembering enabled us to approach the fact of Partition together, yet separately, to talk about our families, our countries, our histories and, slowly, our identities. Carefully, warily even, we spoke about religion and conflict, about prejudice and, remembering, found we had to consciously recall the parting of ways in order not to misunderstand it. To forget for a while, our family and national mythologies.
Through those seemingly endless conversations that resumed at odd times-walking through Anarkali; in the middle of Tariq Ali's film on Partition; late at night, almost asleep, feeling suddenly "homesick" for places we had left behind-we learnt to accept the complicated legacy of division and creation on either side of the border. There have been many breaks in the conversation since then, many silences; some things we understand better, others we mistrust more deeply. Yet, years later, it seems to me that this is one conversation that can have no closure, one memory that refuses to go away.
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Learning to Survive: Two Lives, Two Destinies
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