In a personal email, my friend AC wrote these lines. I was quite moved by the tenor of the text and the exceptionally sensitive understanding of our past from a second generation post,-partition Punjabi. This post makes an important point as we have been discussing issues of history as well as the senseless point-scoring that goes on in the blogosphere by avid nation-state-ists. Raza Rumi.
Comments on India-Pakistan-related blogs all to quickly devolve into “Hindus this” and “Muslims that.” It’s just so useless. We should be enjoying and rejoicing in each other’s existence rather than incessantly lamenting past wrongs, real and perceived. An Indian on your blog is asking why Hindu Bengalis didn’t exterminate Muslims as effectively as the Sikhs and Hindu Punjabis did; a Pakistani is claiming that the Congress actively sought to wipe out the Muslim population across all of India.
My family saw some real hell in partition, but I have to tell you, that generation has always shown a keener interest in stories of my travels to Pakistan than their children or grandchildren. My grandparents’ generation experienced the catastrophe of partition firsthand, lost much wealth, and lost many years of their lives to rebuilding. But they were schooled in Urdu and left homes and friends behind, so I assume there was a feeling of affiliation as well. They saw humans at their worst yet at the same time held in their hearts memories of what was best in the people they knew — stories of courage, generosity, and affectionate friendships. So it is their kids who seem to bear the most personal grudges against Pakistanis. Easy to dehumanize people you have never known, I suppose.
Also, it seems everyone’s story is different. I recently heard the family accounts of a Pakistani friend from Islamabad whose family migrated from Delhi; he said that his grandparents had no real recollection of living amongst or knowing any Hindus. (That would make sense; Shahjahanabad and its environs were an overwhelmingly Muslim place pre-1947.) In that sense, perhaps Punjab was different… more social intermingling, more religious and cultural ferment over the centuries thanks to the colliding influences. That Punjab is lost forever…
The image depicting is from the LIFE magazine archives: “Men placing bodies in mass grave as bulldozer stands ready to cover them up with dirt after [communal] attacks …”
Location: Wagah, Pakistan Date taken: October 1947 Photographer: Margaret Bourke-White
By Ahmad Rafay Alam
I was born into one of those families that presumes one completes their studies in a Western university. And so it was that I found, like the many other Pakistani law students who read law in the United Kingdom, preparing for my bar qualification as a student barrister at Lincolns’ Inn. Though the bar was dreadfully boring and, as I later discovered back home, totally irrelevant to the Pakistani legal system, I was lucky to find accommodation in the Goodenough Trust’s William Goodenough House in London’s quiet McLenburgh Square.
Under one of the terms of the trust governing the William Goodenough House, accommodation is open only to post-graduate students from outside the United Kingdom. This was refreshing because, in place of the drunken undergraduate shenanigans common at other student accommodation, “Willie G” offered an amusing alternative in the drunken shenanigans of international post-graduate students.
Willie G had quite a few Pakistani residents. United, I suppose, by a shared social and cultural background, we forged the type of deep friendships one forges when they live thousands of miles from home. Of course our revelry came at the cost of our grades. I once heard an admissions tutor comment about how it was dangerous to recruit more than a dozen Pakistanis into any academic program: “They form a cricket team and never do any work.” Though we never formed a cricket team – a good idea, in hindsight – the sentiment echoes true enough.
It was when I was in Willie G that I met and became friends with Martand. Martand was from India, and for a Pakistani like me he was a great way to get to know about India, the country next door that figured so prominently in defining what my country was. At the time, I had never been to India. I had no notion of what India was like or what Indians were like other than the opinions I’d picked up in school text books, novels, television, the press, movies. You get the picture. Like anyone else, I suppose, I was coloured by the prejudice of history. In the case of India and Pakistan, nothing attracts more prejudice than the fractural events of Partition. Continue reading