by Chandroo D.
Recently my youngest grandson approached me and requested I be interviewed for his school project. Since I was present during the partition of British India, he chose the topic ‘The partition of India’.
The Partition of India was the division of British India in 1947. Two independent dominions, India and Pakistan were created. The British leaders decided that the partition was the best way to limit bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims.
Partition triggered riots, mass casualties, and a colossal wave of migration. Millions of people moved to what they hoped would be safer territory, with Muslims heading towards Pakistan, and Hindus and Sikhs in the direction of India. As many as 5 million or more people may have been eventually displaced, travelling on foot, in bullock carts and by train.
Hereunder is an excerpt of the interview…
Q: How old were you when it took place?
A: I was around 4 years old when the partition took place during August 1947.
Q: Where were you when the partition took place?
A: I was born in Hyderabad Sind, British India and was living there. Hyderabad Sind is now part of Pakistan.
Q: When were you told there was a partition and how did it feel? What was your reaction?
A: It was during August and the news was on the Radio and public announcements. Besides that, many family friends came over to inform us. There was panic all around and I could see that the family was shocked and extremely worried.
Q: Who were the people in your family?
A: My Mother, Grandmother and my 8 siblings. My father was in Rangoon, Burma during that time and international communication was impossible during that stage. Communication with him in the past was only by letters or telegrams.
Q: What was the first thing you did?
A: My mother consulted family friends and the main head of our neighbourhood to decide on what action we should take. The main head decided we, being Hindus, should all migrate to the Indian side together with close relations and friends for safety reasons.
Q: How were you affected by the partition - what did your family decide to do?
A: We decided to pack up our necessary and important belongings and leave our home to cross over the border by train to the Indian side.
Q: Moving out of your home, how did this impact you?
A: Moving out from our home was the most saddest thing in our family's life. Our family had been living there from past many generations and to suddenly leave everything behind was emotional for us. Mother and Grandmother were in tears when they shut the main door finally, probably wondering what the future would be like.
Q: What was it like to leave so suddenly and what about others like friends and teachers?
A: Can’t remember my friends or teachers. The only thing I remembered leaving behind was my wooden toy cars.
Q: What was it like on the streets when the partition was in place, were there any protesters, police etc..?
A: There was violence and houses on fire in the streets but I did not see it as we travelled discreetly in the night to the train station.
Q: Were you able to go to school, how did the partition affect your education?
A: During the riots and commotion, we were not allowed to leave our house under any circumstance.
Q: Did anything bad happen to your family, did you have to move out of your home? If so, where did you go?
A: Luckily we all escaped without any hitch. We travelled by train to the border into India, then all the way to Calcutta on the East side and then by a steamer (ship) to Rangoon, Burma.
Q: What Role did you play in the Partition?
A: Being too young at that time, I distinctly remember that at some time during the long journey to the border on a train, I was forcibly hidden with the females in the toilet as there were riots, looting and massacre all around by the Muslims whenever the train stopped for some reason.
Q: What do you think it would have been like if you hadn’t moved away from home?
A: Years ago, I did visit my birth place Hyderabad, Sind (now Pakistan) to look for our house. I was in the same area but could not find it despite many enquiries. It was very dusty and everything had changed. Before heading back to Karachi by car, I and a friend stopped by the Railway station. I noticed a roadside stall selling barbecued Palo (bony fish). We sat on a stool, ordered and ate it. That's when I thought to myself.. had I not migrated with the family to the Indian side, I may have turned out to be a fish vendor at the station today.
Our lives revolve around sad and sometimes happy circumstances. Thankfully, I am grateful to my mum and grandmother who had the strength to bravely guide the whole family safely on the long journey towards the border during the migration. The greatest relief and happiness finally came through once we arrived Rangoon and joined my father. Tears of happiness flowed all around!