By Haider Shahbaz
The Friday Times : May 26, 2017
70 years after Independence, we recall the trauma of the division of a country and culture – and of homes, families and lives. The story of Bibi Hamida, as narrated to and translated from the Punjabi by Haider Shahbaz
There were rumours that we will have to leave, that the Muslims will have to exit the village. The state was a Hindu’s. The Raja was a Hindu.I was very afraid when I started hearing news of leaving, the children playing with me. They would say ‘the Sikhs will come and kidnap us’. I was afraid of that. The people knew what was happening. A bunch of them stayed on guard, walking around the village with sticks. These sticks had daggers and knives attached to their ends. The funny thing is: they got the daggers made by a Hindu in the village, who had a shop where he worked with iron; he made tools for the zameendars to use on the fields. But we had to leave in the end. No other way. I guess it’s good. What else could we have done? Still, it makes me sad.
Some stayed on guard, with sticks that had daggers and knives attached to their ends. The funny thing is: they got the daggers made by a Hindu in the village
I was so afraid I couldn’t eat anything after I heard that we will have to leave. It angered and worried my mother. She tried to feed me little things. My sister-in-law, it didn’t impact her, she was very brave. You know, she was preparing pulau on the day we left. Even the pulau stayed there, it was on the stove, cooking, when my brother came and told us we were leaving. ‘Leave, leave!’, my brother began to shout. ‘The rice is cooking,’ my sister-in-law said. ‘You are worried about the rice!’ My brother was panicked and began to scold her. The poor woman, she left the rice on the stove.We locked our home and left. Just like that. My brother didn’t give us time to pick up anything. Some clothes, something, there are a hundred things of your liking you want to bring with you. Nothing. We had a horse, a buffalo. I thought we should’ve at least brought the horse; if someone had become tired on the way,they could’ve used the horse. No, nothing. Thankfully it wasn’t a long journey, otherwise it would’ve been very difficult. The whole village. There was clamour. Everyone leaving. We were headed towards a village of Muslims on the border. We arrived there the next morning. Some people that my brother knew had come there to welcome us. They hosted us for five or six days. They were very nice to us. Then my sister-in-law’s brother came and we left with him. We settled in Zafarwal. They gave us a house, a cow, everything: beds, pans and pots. All our relatives were in Pakistan, so it was easier. Also, Kashmir was close. We started in the evening and got here by morning. The people who were coming from there, from India, they travelled for many days. Many of them were killed. The Hindus killed a lot of them.
I had a friend in my village, Gyano. Her name was Gyan Devi. We called her Gyano. Her family left for Amritsar before news of Partition came. Her brother had put up a fruit shop there. Maybe they knew what was going to happen. I used to play with Gyano. We would sit side-by-side and play with a ball. She would come to our home. She was good. Good manners, good heart. She never said, ‘Her hand has touched my food so now it’s bad.’ She never behaved like that just because I was Muslim. Her mother would say that sometimes. Her mother would ask: ‘What are you doing, Gyano?’ ‘Nothing,’ she would reply, ‘I am eating.’ We would eat from the same bowl.
Very few of the houses in the village belonged to Hindus. I was friends with Gyano. Another Hindu house was there, a woman who married someone in Jhelum – nice people. I would learn knitting from them. They had a daughter too, Munni. We just called her ‘Munni, Munni’. She was grown, but we just called her by that nickname. Who knows where they went? I don’t know. They must have left. Towards Jammu, maybe. At first, there was fear amongst them. There was fear that the Muslims will kill them. Because the Muslims also killed many people.
There was a Sikh in a nearby village who sold cloth. It was a big shop and he kept a lot of cloth. One day, me and my mother went there but he wasn’t at the shop. My mother sent me to his house – it was close to the shop – to inquire if he was there. He was sitting on a charpai with his wife and they were both eating. I told him that my mother was waiting, and as I was talking to him, I touched the charpai. His wife suddenly got up and started saying something to indicate that the food had become bad because of my touch. I don’t know exactly what she was saying, but he told her to stop and said it was okay, ‘they are respected people’. He asked me if I wanted to eat anything, and then told me he’d be out soon.
Bibi Hamida with her husband
‘You are worried about the rice!’ My brother panicked and began to scold her. The poor woman, she left the rice on the stove. We locked our home and left. Just like that
Everyone respected us. We didn’t own land like the zameendars, but many people were my father’s and brother’s murids and they were their murshids, their spiritual guides. My brother had finished chillas, forty-day spiritual retreats. He went and stayed in the graveyard, didn’t speak, didn’t eat any grains. He only ate some fruits or occasionally drank milk. He had to be brought out when the chilla finished; he was so weak he couldn’t walk himself. Slowly, he recovered. Many murids came after that. My brother also had Hindu murids. Many of them would visit our home, especially with children who were ill. They would come in the evening, in the night, around eight. They would cry and have their children all wrapped up and my brother would say prayers for them. There wasn’t so much difference back then. Now, there’s so much enmity. Those were good times. My brother, my husband, they both used to read Guru Nanak’s work. He didn’t believe what the Sikhs believe now. He included praises for some Muslims in his work, to show that this religion is also good. But his followers, they’ve made it something else. They still come here, to Nankana Sahib, his followers. The Muslims serve them very well when the Sikhs visit. It’s good to preserve places like that. Why destroy or vandalise? In my village, Diwali was celebrated. People lit diyas. They performed dramas about the story of Ram and Sita. They made kheer and brought it to our home. Our place was big, open. There was a pool outside. Our ancestors’ graves: my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather. A strong, old peepal tree in the middle. The Hindus bathed in the pool and then offered water to the sun as a form of worship. You know, they had their rituals like that. Everyone has their own religion.
Of course, I have memories and I miss it a lot. Our home and our village. I think about it. But what is there to do? Our people, my girlfriends. Afsos tu hota hai [One does feel regret]. We could never go back to visit.
My brother didn’t let us take anything. He didn’t let us take clothes. Nothing at all. ‘Everything will be available there,’ he said. ‘Leave, leave.’
He wanted us to leave quickly. Many people were with us, some with their buffaloes. My brother, my sister-in-law, my mother and I – we kept walking with the rest of the people until we crossed the border.