Hatred that simmers because elders are ‘silent’

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Oct 13, 2013

The 1947 Partition of Punjab divided an ancient land along communal lines. Its sole by-product was hatred, which all Prophets warn against for it is born out of ignorance. But then prophets are seldom followed by humans in letter, let alone spirit.

In sterile isolation, and mutual hatred, both India and Pakistan live. The temper of 1947 continues to simmer, and simmer it does because an even more lethal element exists, that is the deadly silence of the sufferers of the ‘holocaust of holocausts’. Never has a greater exercise in ethnic cleansing been experienced by humans in such a short time. On both sides the brutalised victims were shocked into perpetual silence. Very soon that generation will no longer be around. Our hatred, and ignorance, will probably gel, and gel it will because of our ignorance of the experiences that were never narrated, never shared, never understood.

I blame my elders for leaving to us a sub-continent without shared experiences, something that existed since the beginning of time. Religion can never be a reason to hate other humans. Ignorance breeds still more ignorance. We are, statistically, the least literate on Mother Earth. Today we face a people at war with its co-religionists. The mutants of ignorance merely multiply.

In this piece I am going to narrate, very briefly, the experiences of three persons. Two belong to Lahore. One still lives in the old walled city inside Bhati Gate near the famous Fakirkhana. The other lives far away in Southall, near London, in Britain. He once lived inside Shahalami Gate just a stone’s throw from Rang Mahal.

The third is a retired college professor who walked with her sisters from Chawinda all the way to Jhelum, finally coming to Lahore to live in the Chauburji Quarters. After marrying a college professor, who has died, she now lives in a posh Lahore locality. I write this because very soon, given the average life expectancy of our elders, the victims will be no more. What they narrated I am passing on to you. I hope every Pakistani, especially school students, record the stories of their families during 1947 and join an effort to collect such stories. Detailed versions I am also compiling. So here is my first contribution.

Sheikh Mubarak Ali is today 94 years old and has lived all his life in Tehsil Bazaar. His son still sits in the shop where his father once ran a tailoring business, only now the son sells amulets, a business blind belief thrives on. Sheikh Sahib made it big because of the orders that came his way in the Second World War, stitching army uniforms. After the war he tailored for the rich. His favourite client, he says, was Syeda Mubarak Begum, wife of Sir Maratib Ali, who was a neighbour.

In 1947 he was part of a gang that hunted Hindus and Sikhs that strayed away from their areas inside the walled city. He set up a system to track and attack their victims. “Let me be honest, the Muslim police at Tibbi Thana were with us and turned a blind eye. When their English officers came, they asked us to disappear so that their jobs were not sacrificed”. The gang was on the lookout for a rich merchant of Shahalami who lived in Bazaar Hakeeman. One day his son left the shop early and was spotted. “I hid in the corner of the lane where he was to turn.

As soon as I saw him my dagger went to work. In three swift strokes his intestines fell out. Then a strong jab at his heart finished him. Within 10 seconds we disappeared and ended up outside the walled city”.

There was a certain élan to his description, yet he was sorry that it all happened. “I went to Haj and sought forgiveness, but to be honest I am still uncomfortable, for I finished off two Hindu and two Sikhs”.

His view of current happenings went like this: “I suppose living with non-Muslims was less stressful, because we enjoyed each other’s festivals. I think had the caste system not been there, Partition would never have happened. Now we curse other Muslim sects”. What will happen now, I asked. “This communal curse will grow. More and more blood will flow. People will forget the blood of Partition”. It was a grim interview.

Now let me switch to Gurbachan Singh Talwar. He is 91 years old, lives in Southall and migrated from Amritsar to Britain in 1969 along with his wife and four children. He worked as an apprentice in a shop in Rang Mahal. I met him after my elder brother tracked him down on my request. Very soon we met a group of elderly Sikhs who gather in a park to talk of old times. Gurbachan was from Lahore, so he interested me. The others we are in the process of interviewing to preserve their thoughts.

“My role in 1947 was to work with a group of brave Sikhs who kept the Muslims ‘goondas’ away from our areas. We killed a number of them when they tried to enter our lane and break into houses. I knifed one myself. In the end we gated our Shahalami area. Initially it made us feel safe, but when they started throwing flaming oil rags into our ‘havelis’ from faraway roofs using a sling, that started fires. We took to the roofs with rifles”.

He went on to explain: “But then very soon a major fire broke out and it spread. We rushed out of the gates, only to be attacked. It was terrible and we did not know where to run. The Army came and rescued many. Others died in the fire and the savage attacks. In the end it was just too much. I moved with my family to Amritsar, where we attacked Muslims. But then our elders stopped us and that was the Partition for us. Terrible! Hell could not be worse”.

Lastly, we interviewed the retired college professor who was 23 years old when she was forced to flee her family house in Chawinda. “We went in a group and walked for days. My shoes, like that of my sisters, broke and we walked barefooted. We reached Jhelum after three weeks”.

I asked her if they had been attacked in the way. She became silent. I could see she was hiding the ‘whole truth’. Silence is not a lie. It is also not the truth. Her eyes were sad. I put her at ease: “Can I say that you were mistreated and wish not, for social reasons, to recall the events”. She sadly, almost scared, nodded her head. Rape had become a way of life then.

“Pakistan was a blessing for us. We got admission in schools and colleges, got jobs, got married, have children who have done well. We are all grandmothers now”. So I left it at that. In Lahore they were not known. So life started from square one, and that was 1947.

But the hatred that 1947 generated remains very much there. Today ‘patriots’ thrive on that hate. In sterile isolation both India and Pakistan have become countries where reason and compassion for one another is absent.

As our elders increasingly leave us, they take away a huge part of our collective recent history. That is why it is everyone’s duty to record their own family stories. One day when they are collected, we will know better what exactly ails us both. It is a much needed conclusion.




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