It is an interesting twist of fate I must say. I stay with my landlady who was a refugee of the India Pakistan Partition of 1947. The heavy exodus of population during the violent partition saw approximately 17.9 million people leaving their homes. Records indicate that only 14.5 million arrived at their destination countries suggesting that 3.4 million people went “missing”* Stories of horrors told by these refugees will put Brothers Grimm to shame. I try to get as much information from my landlady so that I can try and understand what these refugees must have gone through.
As told to me by my landlady:
‘I was a teenager when this happened. I must have been around 15 years old when we got Independence from the British. I used to stay with my family in Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan). In those days too Pindi as the place was more commonly called was an important city as it is today. For us a children I guess the meaning of patriotism was flamed through the national leaders we used to listen to. I remember donating my gold earrings after hearing Subhash Chandra Bose’s speech for the cause of the freedom struggle. We knew that Britishers had to leave and we had to have our freedom. When the day finally came, we all rejoiced. I believe even then the concept of two different nations did not hit us. Though Pakistan was formed a day earlier, but for us Independence was not just a day as we know today. We knew that the wheels of freedom were moving and we were going to get our freedom. So we were rejoicing and celebrating our freedom…not as Pakistan or India but as one.
Then the rumors started. We heard news of acts of violence, people being asked to leave Pakistan, especially non-muslims. Pindi was not as much affected as most of the other border cities and towns. But my parents were getting concerned since we were Hindus ourselves. Till that day, we never felt we were staying with muslims, but for us they were Indians. But then things started changing. My father was worried about our safety since we were 3 girls and 1 son besides my mother. Our relatives were already settled in the hills as we used to call it then, today they are the famous hills of Darjeeling and the adjoining areas.
So when we had to pack our bags, we as kids were excited because we felt this was some vacation. A muslim family had come and my father gave him the keys to our house. He gave his keys to his house in India and told us to stay there. This exchange of accomodation and land happended then. We did not know where his house was or what was it like. My mother believed this was all a momentary phase and the violence will subside and we can all come back home. So we never took more than necessary. We locked most of our stuff in one of the rooms and gave the keys to the Muslim gentleman and left for India.
We reached the hills and the violence started. People from both sides were being slaughtered. Luckily I did not witness any of this. We children were upbeat at the change of scenery. My mother refused to move in to the house of the Muslim gentleman since she sincerely believed that we will get to go back to our own house in Pindi. But when things became clearer, we realized that the Partition was true. It was not a passing phase of religious fervour. It was permanent. The reality did not stike us for a long time. We had become refugees all of a sudden. The loss of our own home must have hit my parents harder because that house was my parents life savings. All wiped out in a day.
We stayed with relatives for a long time. I am glad we had relatives staying here in India. But I feel sorry for all those who were not so lucky.’
Everytime I hear this, I try to read her mother’s thoughts. How she must have felt? She refused to believe that she lost her everything and she cannot return to her own home. So much so that she refused to stay in a strangers house who had given his keys and was staying in their house back in Pindi. The magnitude of loss cannot be expressed by someone who has not experienced this in life. I cannot imagine such a plight, where one fine day you are told that the home that you have been staying, the school that taught you, the neighbours you spent your life with, the streets that you roamed; are not your’s anymore.
Today I stay with my landlady and if she had not been refugee and settled in India, I would not have met her. I admire this lady and take her to be my mother away from home. She took me in when I did not have a roof over my head and was looking desperately for a house. I would have been homeless if not for a Refugee!