Tag Archives: Indian Partition

Times: This is heartbreaking and maddening — India and unending Partition

6 Oct

But the nation state, especially when allied with religion, will always make you choose.

“Mr. Bheel is wracked by doubt, the same doubt his grandfather had when he chose to keep the family in Pakistan during partition. Did he make the right choice?”  [My emphasis]

merlin_160701048_e0a56f3b-7bff-41e3-b6fb-2b0314f9da71-superJumboCreditSaumya Khandelwal for The New York Times

From the Times: ‘At the Stroke of Midnight My Entire Family Was Displaced’

14 Aug
(Just going to lift this material in its entirety from The New York Times because it’s so beautiful and moving; it’s hard to find something of your own to say  — NB)

August marks the 70th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule in India and the creation of the two independent countries of India and Pakistan, carved along religious and political lines. More than 10 million people were uprooted. We asked readers how they or their families were affected. These are some of their stories.


The author’s mother, Rashida Begum, and father, Malik Fazal Haq, in photos taken around 10 years before partition. CreditCourtesy of Tariq Malik

‘Was he calling out for me?’

In 1947 I was 10. We lived in comfort in Jammu and Kashmir state.

We lost everything at the time of the creation of Pakistan. Things can be replaced, not lives.

My father, an intellectual and educationalist, was murdered. Eight of us crossed into Pakistan dressed in summer clothes and nothing else. Winter came and we had nothing to wear and no roof over our heads. By the following summer my feet had outgrown my shoes and I had to walk barefoot on scorching earth. My feet sometimes still feel that hot surface.

Even today I get nightmares about my father’s murder. As a physician I wonder how the end came. Was he in pain, was he cold, was he thirsty, was he calling out for me?

— Tariq Malik


Suman and Anand Khorana. Credit Dr. A. B. Khorana

‘My father recalled hiding in a Muslim family’s house’

My father, Anand B. Khorana, was about 10 years old at the time of partition. His father was a civil engineer and the whole family (my grandparents, father and his five siblings) had recently moved into a new home they built as a mark of their “middle-class” status. The oldest child, a daughter, had recently become engaged. The family had lived for generations in the state of Punjab and could not conceive of living any place else. As my late father told it, everyone had heard rumblings about the state being divided into a Pakistani half and an Indian half, but few thought it would happen imminently.

At the stroke of midnight my entire family was displaced. Their land and home were deemed to be on the Pakistani side and in a few days it was pretty clear that a Hindu family, regardless of their prior status, was in danger. I don’t know all the details but, unlike most families who decided to emigrate immediately (many losing their lives on the trains in the process), my father’s family went into hiding for a few months. My father recalled hiding in a Muslim family’s house (a former employee of my grandfather’s).

Eventually, things calmed down and the family made the trek to India and resettled, initially in Delhi in refugee quarters. My grandfather was able to find a job similar to his prior one. All of their property, including the house they had recently built, was lost but the family was grateful to have made it out alive — unlike so many others. The only person believed lost was the eldest daughter’s fiancé but, a year later, she spotted him at a train station in Delhi. They married and had several children.

— Alok A. Khorana


The Ghosh family, c. 1972. The author is in her father’s arms. CreditCourtesy of Madhushree Ghosh

‘We carried the heavy utensils, because we thought copper was more valuable than silver’

My parents were young when they walked from what’s now Bangladesh to India. Baba called East Pakistan “home” until he died in 2004. His family, landowners in Dhaka, fled with their belongings; copper utensils, large bowls, plates. He used to say, “We never needed anything, so we didn’t know the value of money. We carried the heavy utensils, because we thought copper was more valuable than silver. We were children, what were we to do?”

When Baba’s bank job moved him to New Delhi, he spent days recreating his childhood vegetable garden. Cabbage, cauliflower, peas, spinach, okra, we had it all. He used to say, “Our pumpkins were bigger than the sun!” and I would believe him. Everything in Bangladesh, the place he left, was better. The roses were more fragrant, the eggplants more purple, the fish were fresher — Delhi could never compete.

Ma was 12 when her family fled Barisal for Kolkata. They sold everything, including Ma’s favorite school books. She mourned those books until she died, in 2008. But she was proud that she hadn’t marked any of them with a pen or pencil. “They were pristine,” she would say, “so Thakur da could sell them at a premium. That money helped us escape.”

— Madhushree Ghosh


The author’s father and mother, c. 1960. CreditCourtesy of Peter Jones Jr.

‘My siblings and I have been effectively stateless’

My father’s family was part of the British colonial administration. During partition my father was in Pakistan attending school while the rest of his family was in Pune, India. As hostilities erupted between Hindus and Muslims, my father was cut off from his family. He couldn’t get British citizenship because most of his papers were lost during the upheaval. So, in the ’50s, he made his way to the United Arab Emirates by ship and started a family there.

My siblings and I have been effectively stateless. Although we are familiar with Indian and Pakistani culture, we belonged to neither culture. We grew up in the Middle East, in Dubai, among other Asians but could not identify with them.

— S. Jones


The author’s father and mother in the late ’40s/early ’50s.Credit

‘He would never forgive himself if anything happened to her’

When partition was announced, my father, who worked for the British Indian Government, was posted in Bombay. He was advised that as a Muslim he would have better career opportunities in Pakistan. He was asked to report to offices in Rawalpindi as soon as possible. He left and my mother, Rosy, who was 20, and their six-month-old daughter stayed behind until he could arrange for their accommodation. Because of the chaos he could not come back to get them, so he asked my mother to take a train to Lahore. On the train a Sikh gentleman noticed my mother alone with an infant and asked her where she was going. When she told him Lahore, he was shocked and told her about the massacres that were taking place on trains going to Pakistan — my mother and father hadn’t known.

He said he was traveling to Amritsar (30 miles from Lahore) but would accompany her to Wagah, a border town between India and Pakistan, because he would never forgive himself if anything happened to her. He told my mother that if anyone asked, she was his daughter. He thought her name, Rosy, was fine since it was secular. But my sister’s name, Shahina, was distinctly Muslim, so if anyone asked her name was Nina.

He stayed with them until Wagah and walked with them to the Pakistani border, kissed them both on their foreheads and told them he wished he could take them all the way to Lahore, but he would not make it back alive.

My sister, who lives in Karachi, is still called Nina by everyone in the family. My mother insisted on that.

— Sohail Murad


The author’s father, left, grandfather and grandmother, a few years after partition. CreditCourtesy of Kanwal Prakash Singh

‘We prayed as we imagined the worst. Almighty God had other plans.’

On Sept. 7, a bespectacled Sikh man, much like my father, was killed in town and a rumor spread that he had come to set fire to the local mosque.

The next day dislocated families from surrounding villages who had taken shelter in schoolyards, grain markets and other vulnerable locations were attacked. I can still hear the cries of people shot or stabbed outside the Gurdwara and the gunfire that began around 4 p.m., as the last train left the Jaranwala Railway Station, in Pakistan, and continued into the evening.

That night women and children were sheltering in a room on the second floor of the Gurdwara with instructions on what to do if the militia broke through the doors and entered the temple. The thought still gives me chills. The temperature outside was in the 90s Fahrenheit, but inside the heat was oppressive. Some men stayed on the main floor or on the rooftop lookout, armed with sticks, swords, a pistol and one double-barreled gun. We were certain our end was imminent. We prayed as we imagined the worst.

Almighty God had other plans. For the next three days we holed-up in the Gurdwara. Our ranks swelled with the addition of the injured who were able to escape. We heard rumors that we would be attacked on Sept. 12, after Friday prayers. But there was a knock at the giant door of the temple around 10 a.m. and four Sikh military officers ordered us to leave in ten minutes and said they would escort us to the caravan of refugees that was passing. Everyone scrambled and ran with the clothes on their backs, relieved and hopeful to live another day or die with others traveling toward the new border and sanctuary of India.

— Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh


‘I was probably the first member of my family to visit the home since 1947’

My father was a refugee and a migrant. As his child I have lived a peripatetic life, but have always been able to maintain connections with my family in Pakistan. I lived in Aligarh while I was researching my dissertation and visited the home where my father and my grandmother were born. I met the son of the family who had migrated from Lahore and received the home as refugee property (though he had been born later, in independent India). I was probably the first member of my family to visit the home since 1947 and met people who remembered my family, who were known for their love of rooftop kite flying. The family who lives there now sent homemade sweets for me to take to my Pakistani family.

— Amber Abbas


My parents with me in Calcutta at my Mundan ceremony, c. 1954. 

‘He spent days carrying two Muslims from the East to the West’

My mother’s younger brother lived in Jammu and must have been a lad of 15 at the time of the partition. He was aware of the mass violence around him, but he did not take up arms and perpetuate the violence. He was a strong swimmer, and he spent days carrying two Muslims from the East to the West and then two Hindus from the West to the East on his shoulders — back and forth. My uncle’s story reminds me that people can stop the cycle of violence.

— Ripudaman Malhotra


The author’s father, left, and grandfather. CreditCourtesy of Ritesh Batra

‘It was not a national tragedy for him, but a very personal one’

My paternal grandfather and grandmother moved to Bombay during partition with their two little sons. I shared a room with my grandfather growing up and heard stories of how things were before and silences about what happened during. In his last year my grandfather would often weep about partition. It was not a national tragedy for him, but a very personal one.

My maternal grandfather moved to Lucknow in India at the height of the violence. They lost many cousins and relations, but the immediate family made it safely. He restarted an optical shop called Lahore Opticals, named after the city of his birth, and became successful. When Hindu-Muslim strife breaks out in India, the shop is invariably targeted. But my grandfather never changed the name. His shop is now run by my uncle and is still named after the city they fled, now in Pakistan.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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Annia Ciezadlo’s “Be Like Water” in Guernica — Mytilene and the refugees

20 Dec

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 6.49.52 PM

It was Mytilene’s (Lesbos) karma, I thought, from the beginning of the refugee crisis, to become the portal for the whole tragic flood of humanity that’s entering Europe right now. At the time of the ugly and brutal Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey of their respective minorities that was decided by the Treaty of Lausanne and began in 1923, Mytilene was the only Greek island off the Aegean coast that had a large number of Muslims, probably more then one quarter of its population. Chios (Sakız), and Samos had very few, almost none in the case of Samos, while the islands further south, the Dodecanese, had already been given to the Italians by the victorious Entente/Allies and so the ancestors of the some 5,000 Turks (Greece’s Turkish minority that we tend to forget about) that still live in Kos and Rhodes were exempt.
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Across exactly from Mytilene is the Turkish town of Ayvali (Ayvalık). Ayvali was one of those products of the Ottomans’ improvisatory policies for managing the multiple ethnic and religious corporate groups that constituted the empire, and usually worked; in the 18th century, the coast of the Anatolian Aegean being underpopulated and underutilized economically, a grant was given to Greeks to settle there that didn’t just encourage Greeks, but excluded Muslims from settling there, to make the area even more attractive for Greek settlers.*

Ayvalik_III

And very soon, Ayvali grew, out of its seafaring activities and the fertility of its hinterland, into a prosperous and what is, architecturally, still a beautiful small Greek city, the object of much nostalgia in the Greek genre of Anatolian martyrology, but more, the symbol of what Patricia Storace calls “the voluptuous domesticity” that Greeks associate with their former paradisiacal life on the Aegean coast.

[It’s also made Ayvali, the neighbouring island of Cunda, Tenedos and Imvros to some extent, newly fashionable for White Turk hipster tourists, since their parents’ generation didn’t get a chance to turn it all into Bodrum or Benidorm.  They’re the Aegean coast equivalent of Pera/Karaköy and like neighborhoods in Istanbul.]

So the two regions came to fit into each other like a Yin/Yang symbol, and when the Exchange came, most Ayvali Greeks were settled in Mytilene, while the Turks of the island were shipped just across the water – the often treacherous channel were so many refugees today have drowned (it’s a great error – popular and tourist-based — to see the Aegean as a benign sea), and settled in Ayvali and its neighboring villages.**

Yin_and_Yang.svg

Mytilenioi, a population of around 80,000, in a country sunk into the deepest economic pit of any country in the European Union, have seen over 400,000 refugees pass through their island in 2015. And yet, despite a few outbreaks, the islanders’ acceptance of this flood of humanity has been exemplary: full of patience, humanity and humor even – as Roger Cohen reported: Battered Greece and Its Refugee Lessonwith a deep empathy that I had thought from the beginning was due partly to so many of the islanders’ descent – only one or two generations – from refugees themselves.

When I’d say so here in Greece, many responded to me with the usual Greek cynicism: our deepest, most tragic flaw, that no one is ever doing anything in good faith. Yet at least one Greek journalist and blogger, Michalis Gelasakis,had the same idea, posting this photo of old Greek women on Mytilene cradling and feeding the baby of a Syrian refugee woman:

Mytilenies and refugee baby GelasakisΓιαγιάδες στη Μυτιλήνη ταΐζουν το μωρό μιας προσφυγοπούλας. Πιθανό και οι ίδιες να είχαν φτάσει κάπως έτσι στις βορειοανατολικές ακτές του νησιού.”

“Grandmothers in Mytilene feed the baby of a refugee woman. Likely themselves to have arrived like this in North-East Coast of the island.”

And now, to confirm my own sentiments, comes this stunning article, “Be like Water” in Guernica by Annia Ciezadlo, a Beirut-based journalist, that weaves together the Greco-Turkish Population Exchange, Indian Partition, Mytilene’s place in the current refugee crisis, Homer and ancient concepts of hospitality, all in one tender, moving piece:

“Philoxenia: love for the stranger, the traveler, the guest. Who might be a god or goddess in disguise. Or Odysseus, returning from his travels in the guise of a beggar in order to test the loyalties of his servants.”

OdysseyTransFEumaeus

“Old man, the dogs were likely to have made short work of you, and then you would have got me into trouble. The gods have given me quite enough worries without that, for I have lost the best of masters, and am in continual grief on his account. I have to attend swine for other people to eat, while he, if he yet lives to see the light of day, is starving in some distant land. But come inside, and when you have had your fill of bread and wine, tell me where you come from, and all about your misfortunes.”
[My emphasis]

—Eumaeus, the Syrian [how did she find this idea?], to the disguised Odysseus; The Odyssey, Book 14

I know that the people of Mytilene – and their “philoxenia” or even more, their “philotimo,***” have done us proud as Greeks, and deserve a collective Nobel peace prize for 2015, while the rest of Europe has acted more like Eumaeus’ dogs.

Read Ciezadlo’s beautiful tapestry of a piece – now…

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smyrna-TOPGreek refugee ship leaving Smyrna. September, 1922. Image source: Drexel University College of Medicine, Archives and Special Collections.

Be Like Water

By Annia Ciezadlo
December 15, 2015

The Nonviolent State of Iraq and Syria. The Republic-in-Motion of Lovers Not Fighters. The Government-in-Exile of People Who Just Want to Go to School.

“I came to Mytilene, believe it or not, for vacation…”

The rest  here.

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*  Yeah, the Ottomans did odd shit like this, to keep everybody happy and for the most part it worked.  Like Ayvali and its environs, for example, in Istanbul in the 17th century the Porte granted the mostly Chian shipyard workers from the tershana in Hasköy on the Golden Horn/Keratio, the right to establish a village around the pre-existent shrine of St. Demetrios on the hilltop which the gulley up through Dolapdere led to, and where no Muslims, weirdly, were allowed to settle.  This was the nucleus out of which the legendary Greek neighborhood of Tatavla grew, and which, due to its rough, working class character, was an intimidating place for Muslims to enter until the end of the Empire.  Except for its famous Carnival, when everyone was allowed.

The same would happen in highland regions of Greece, Epiros especially — where remittances from emigrant locals provided the wealth to pay for it — where autonomous privileges were bought from the Ottoman authorities in return for a modest amount of self-government and the right to not have Muslims settle there and not be subject to Islamic proselytizing of any sort — violent or otherwise.  “…και παππού σε μέρη αυτόνομα μέσα στην τουρκοκρατία…” as Savvopoulos once sang.

** The truth is that refugees from neighboring Mytilene were probably outnumbered by Cretan Turks in Ayvali, like along much of the Aegean coast left empty by departing Greeks, along with Ayvali, Smyrna itself and the neighboring peninsula of Karaburna.  The irony here is that many of the Mytilene Turks that came were Turkish-speaking, while the massive flood of Cretan Turks spoke Greek, so that much of the Aegean coast remained Greek-speaking, albeit Greek of a markedly different dialect, until a couple of generations or so ago.  And despite the disappearance of the language, of all the Turkish exchangees, it’s Cretan Turks who have most preserved a solid identity and group consciousness.

*** Philotimo: a complex word I’ll have to explain in another post, though I give it a go here:

“Honor” is a bad translation for “φιλότιμo,” which means honor and amour propre and sense of dignity and reciprocity, all in one complex structure of emotions and social acts. Basically, “philotimo” is the sense of self-respect that’s intimately tied up with the upholding of your obligations to others that held Greeks together for centuries. All readers here know I’m a fanatic opponent of reading Classicizing virtues – or Classical anything — into Neo-Greek society, but the importance of “philotimo,” I feel, even if just discursive, even if only in its lapses, is a millennia-long constant.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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