15th of August. Independence Day. Celebrations galore. The whole country would be celebrating. Why not! The country got independence on this very day, 73 years ago, and became a democracy. It is heartening to see the youth celebrating. This year, the day might carry a little more patriotism, as it has been adding an extra dose of that, every year since the last half a decade.
This time it is special. Akhand Bharat it is finally! A United India! Section 370 which segregated Kashmir from India is abrogated. Not that many Indians had really bothered to read what the Article even said, before this all happened, neither many did after it happened. The general knowledge about it is more or less based on what is discussed on the televised debates and discussions. Picking up the rule book (read constitution) and reading it is not in our genes. We celebrated that the land is now open to ‘India’ and ‘Indians’, not knowing that 12 other states are still somewhat closed to the rest of India. 12 out of 29 states currently.
As a non-Kashmiri, Punjabi woman, my thoughts went someplace else when I heard all the conundrum about United India. The sanctum sanctorum of democracy, our Parliament, was drowned in the loud calls of Akhand Bharat during and after the announcement of abrogation of Article 370 in the house. All I could hear on the ‘nationalist’ TV channels, was the same. The debate participants were fuming with nationalistic fervour and changing from the Indian wheatish complexion to the nationalistic deep saffron. But all what was ringing in my mind was whether we really do have a United India? Have we really clutched the Akhand Bharat of the olden days from the hands of destiny and reclaimed it for our own, for our people?
And a map of pre partition India flashed on the screen I have in my mind for such occasions, and a thick line started carving out a piece from the India of the yore, tearing apart a land called Panjab. Panj-Aab, the land of five rivers. That line was called The Radcliffe Line. The colour of that line was red. Drenched with the blood of over a million people killed during the process. Soaked with the pain of over 15 million people displaced in the greatest migration in recorded human history. And it left two Panjabs, each having two and a half rivers.
To understand how unfair and crass this division was, an important aspect needs to be known. The line which was to become an international border between two countries carved out of one nation was drawn by Sir Cyrill Radcliffe, who was brought to India, barely a month and a half ahead of the date 15th August 1947. It must be noted that he had never visited India ever prior to that, and was supposed to draw a line which divided it till eternity. He did not know anything of the social structure of India, more so of the region he was going to partition, the Panjab. His decision was based on maps and calculations. Probably he forgot the fact that there was going to be human factor involved in the process. It was the same as handing over a map drawing in the hands of a child and providing a pair of scissors to play with. You tell that child that only one cut is allowed. Imagine how, and considering what, a child would cut that map. The Radcliffe Line was akin to that tear in the map.
Every Independence Day brings a plethora of emotions in me. I flood with emotions. There is pride, in what our freedom fighters achieved. There is gratitude, to be born in a free country I can call home. There is nostalgia of what I do not have. But there is a pain, imagining what people lost back then. A pain over homes lost. A pain over heritage lost. A pain over ancestry lost. A pain over history lost. And a pain over lives lost. A pain over language lost. A pain over culture lost. A pain over gurdwaras lost. And this pain is overwhelming. I feel I carry the weight of a collective consciousness of the loss. I travel back to the time I have never seen in this lifetime of mine, and yet, I feel the pain.
Some people do not understand this pain. There is an unspoken question in their eyes, questioning the authenticity of my emotions, because I was born forty years after all this happened. Most of them are the natives, who have tasted this soil since generations. They have never faced a situation where your own traditions feel alien to others, because they did not originate here. They have never heard the dialect which sounds music to my ears. They have never sat and listened to the legends of Partition as the folklore. They have never experienced the chills, knowing your father’s father reached this side of the border with his married sister’s money and jewellery in his charge, to be handed over to her. How he travelled during the nights and spent the days hiding from assailants, reached ‘India’ and then traced his family to a refugee camp. They would never know. They would never feel goose bumps listening to how your mother’s father, after reaching this side of the border went back one night to his native place to sell some of the assets left behind there and get some money for his family in the refugee camp. They would never realise the fear that grips you knowing that instead of his brother who got picked up could very well have been him. They do not understand the effect this has on you. The knowledge, that had there been a little slip in both these stories, and you would not have been sitting there. A question mark leers at your existence, sending you in a forever gratitude mode.
After 73 years, when the ‘Partition Generation’ is vanishing quickly, it seems we have forgotten the horror 15th of August 1947 was. It was freedom, but what kind? Which took away everything from millions! Imagine the plight of those who locked their homes and took the keys away, to come back again. My great great grandmother, ‘Amma’ did that. Imagine them, coming to this side of the newly built border, having to break the locks of another’s house. Imagine millions of people starting their lives from scratch. Easier said than done! 73 years later, I know of families in other cities, towns, and more importantly villages, still known as refugees after three quarters of a century! This, when they have built a good life in the land, they moved to, with nothing.
I hold on to little traditions our families carried on from the lands across the border, as a thread to my past. I get an unexplainable feeling when those traditions are looked at with surprise, by the natives. Yes, they are Panjabis, and I am a Panjabi too. But our native lands were miles and miles apart! The look on their faces alienates me from my own land and people. Our language is lost. And by lost, I very regrettably mean it. I do not know what ‘Saraiki’ or ‘Pothowari’ sounds like. Our elders left the language to adapt to the new lands, and after two generations, it seems lost. I scramble to lay my hands on any literature I can get my hands on with those dialects of Panjabi. I cried my heart out when I read ‘My Pakistani Safarnama’ (My Travels through Pakistan). I waited more than a decade to lay my hands on it, so that I could read what my mother’s ancestors spoke. I listened to a song by a Pakistani singer, the description of which said it was in Saraiki, the dialect my father’s ancestors spoke. Surprisingly, a part of that song existed in present folk music, and I was wowed realising I knew it all along!
The lands where our religion originated are lost, out of our reach. The birth place of Guru Nanak, the land where He lived and showed us how to practice the religion, how to live the path He showed us, the lands he tilled, all that is lost to us. It is a herculean task to visit there. Every Sikh, no matter where in the world, prays every single day for the lands of the Gurus to be reunited. It is a wound which is never going to heal.
I feel I have something which ties me back to that long-lost land. It calls me, and I wish to know what pulls me! I wish for a time, when I can go and visit my ancestral homes, and see where I came from. That would be the United India for me. Till then, 15th August is more of a Partition Day for me, and many families like mine.