Category Archives: Memories

‘You have cried, so have we’

How does one divide a land? And how do you tell this story to generations who have no idea of the deep loss and grief  millions of people experienced  when the partition of India happened in 1947?

Who decides what story to tell? When to tell? How many stories to tell? Who decides how should we tell the history of a nation to its younger lot? How can we tell these stories so that subsequent generations know the real cost of  hate, prejudices? 

 

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During my recent visit to Amritsar, I spent an entire day at the Partition Museum, the only one of its kind in the world. To be there is to be on a pilgrimage. It was deeply moving and engaging to be there. The Partition of India saw  the largest migration in human history and around 20 million people were affected. Yet, for many decades these stories have not been shared. The Partition Museum is all about people and their stories. They have opened their hearts, shared their gut-wrenching experiences and while sharing their stories they have once again lived the horrors of those times. But they have chosen to share their stories. That’s the beauty of the Partition Museum in Amritsar.

Here I am sharing some notes I took while I was there. Photography is not allowed inside the museum (barring at one place) which I think is a fabulous idea.  The physical space of the museum strikes a chord with your inner self. The haunting sound of a train passing by and the installation of an anonymous railway platform stays with you for a long time. This nameless platform is in memory of all those innocent ordinary people who lost their lives in train attacks  and all those who survived this intensely traumatic train journey without food/water as they fled from the land that was their home.  You come closer to stories of loss, grief, betrayal and also the story of hope and the indomitable human spirit to build lives from the ashes.

THE PARTITION … THE LINE THAT DIVIDES 

Sir Cyril Radcliffe had six weeks to draw the border line. He was commissioned to equitably divide 4,50,000 km sq of territory with 88 million people. Radcliffe had never visited India before and he had no idea of its people, landscape and culture. He arrived on July 8 and completed his report by August 12. In an interview later, he said, “I had no alternative, the time at my disposal was so short that I couldn’t do a better job. Given the same period, I would do the same thing. However, if I had two-three years, I would do it differently.”

Following the mindless violence the partition saw, Radcliffe did not take any money for the work he had done. He said, “The people who died, their blood was on my head.”

 

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YOU CAN’T READ LOSS 

Loss is personal yet in many ways it’s universal too. Sudershana Kumari and her parents had to flee their home one evening while they were preparing their dinner. They just jumped from one terrace to another in desperation and left everything that was once theirs. Sudershana was eight then. Decades later, she recounts that horrifying night as tears flow continuously from her eyes. In an extraordinary gesture, she has donated a ‘KARI GLASS’  (among other things) to the museum. She explains, “When you respect a guest, you offer them milk/lassi in a kari glass. As the polish never goes off, it was considered precious.” Her sense of belongingness lies in that glass.

Major Jagat Singh’s family and their village did not migrate initially because they assumed Lahore will be with India. When finally their kafila moved, they were attacked. Singh had just crossed the Ravi river, when he looked back to see his father and many others killed on the other side of the river.

(Radcliffe had said, “By population, property, standards Lahore was originally in India. But then there was no city left for Pakistan. So I took Lahore from India and gave it to Pakistan. From East Pakistan, Calcutta was coming to India.”) 

In Thoha Khalsa village in Rawalpindi, women jumped into the well to protect the honour. In the museum, when you see the well (an installation) under the subtle light you feel a knife cutting through your heart.

THE POOR ALWAYS SUFFERS THE MOST: There were many with no other means came by Kafila, walking miles and miles in the scorching heat and the torrential rains of heavy monsoon. They were particularly vulnerable to attack by mobs. They walked without shelter, sanitation, food and water. Thousands especially the elderly, the sick, the children perished from exhaustion, starvation. They started the journey but never made it to their destination.

WHO CARES ABOUT DALITS? Very less has been written about the Dalits and Partition. To be honest, I myself have not thought about this aspect of the Partition earlier. Dalits could not stay in the main refugee camps and they were also cut off from getting access to clothing and food rations. Rameshwari Nehru, the head of the committee to rehabilitate dalits notes that the land compensation policies excluded dalits as they were viewed as tillers not owners.

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HOW DO YOU DIVIDE CULTURE? 

The tragic consequences of the Partition were felt in music, literature, cricket and heritage. In an absurd matter of fact effort at equity, ancient necklaces belonging to Mohenjodaro were broken and an equal number of beads were given to India and Pakistan. Even giving either country one extra bead had to be discussed and put formally on file.

TOWARDS HOPE, LOVE AND LIGHT

The Partition Museum shows us that — We can never win against hate. Hate will consume all of us, sooner or later. Empathy is the only answer.

The last segment of the museum has a tall, elegant Hope Tree. You can leave a message on a piece of paper which is in the shape of leaf. History can be our greatest teacher if  we are willing to learn from our history.

Facing the Hope Tree, there is a board which has following lines of Sufi poet Bulleh Shah. “Entire universe is contained in a single point. The God is found not by those who follow rites and rituals but by those whose hearts are pure.”

Let us move away from hate, prejudices and stay closer to love and empathy. If not now then when?

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Remembering Ma

She gave me life and I held her hand gently as she breathed her last. I did not know how debilitating loss could be till I came back to her empty bedroom after her mortal remains were consigned to flames.

Her tryst with cancer was laced with grace and grit. In those five years of  innumerable hospital visits, intensely painful bone marrow tests, decaying plasma cells, as we walked hand in hand, we experienced infinite love.

Our birthdays are just one day apart…. Today is hers. She lives within me.

I hope in my own journey ahead, with her blessings I will be a better human being in every sense of the term. I owe this blog to her cause she was a mesmerising story-teller. And I am just trying to carry forward this legacy.

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Everyday Romance

She: I think, you have forgotten how you used to sleep on my lap for hours. Tum toh so jaate the aur mein deewar dekhti rahti thi ( You used to sleep like a log and I used to stare at the walls)

He: Of course, I remember it very well.

She: Then

He: What then? It’s simple — one will sleep where one belongs to. That’s his/her place. So, I slept in my place.

Home is where the trees are

I am in deep mourning. I am grieving for all the beautiful, strong, not so strong trees we have lost as Cyclone Fani ravaged Odisha few days back.

I have grown up with trees. I have hugged them in moments of happiness. I have leaned against them in times of sadness. Sometimes I have taken their presence for granted. My most beautiful growing up memory is all about waking up in the morning and sitting quietly on the verandah of our then house (I have lived in different parts of Odisha) and just soaking in the ethereal beauty of swaying coconut trees, watching tiny birds jumping from one branch of the mango tree to another.

There are no gentler souls in this world than the trees. They give shelter even to those who come to brutally hack them from the roots.

Even as I grieve deeply, I hope we will soon plant more trees in Odisha and love them more deeply and pray for their longer life.

In their existence lies our future. For trees are life.

(This banyan tree belongs to the soil of Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital. I was mesmerized by its richness of life. Being with this tree felt like being with my ancestors… the sense of its history warmed the cockles of my heart. How can we become this large in our hearts? )   

PHOTOS : YOURS TRULY

 

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Anonymous,the most prolific poet

When I was a child, I used to read many poems in the text books ending with ‘Anonymous’ (as credit). So, in my little mind, Anonymous was the most prolific poet in this whole wide world. And for some odd reasons, Anonymous was ‘HE’ not ‘SHE’ (well, gender conditioning begins early in life.) I used to dream of growing up to be ‘Anonymous’.  Till one day, I discovered the truth behind Anonymous. And there died my desire to be … Anonymous

 

Smiles & Tears: The Big ‘C’ Lessons

February 4 is World Cancer Day.

I have spent six years of my adult life in caring for two cancer patients (my mother and my husband’s sister). I have lost both of them to this dreaded C. Caring for them, loving them and watching them putting up a brave show has been life-changing. Far more substantial than what I learnt in  JNU, India’s premier university. What are the lessons actually?

  • Health is wealth.
  • Family is fundamental. If you are lucky, your family members are your angels. More so when the going gets tough.
  • Money is important. Money enables you to have choices.
  • Small is beautiful. So, there is immense beauty in taking a shower by yourself, standing in front of the mirror and putting on your lipstick, enjoying a cup of tea or  cooking a simple meal of dal, rice and egg curry.
  • Physical pain can make you feel naked. It can be really soul-destroying.
  • Ordinary can be extra-ordinary if you know how to be present in the moment.
  • Hospitals can be terribly lonely even when they are crowded.
  • Enjoy the moment. You don’t know how one biopsy test can change your life’s narrative.
  • Be gentle. There’s no substitute to being gentle. When you are gentle within yourself, you are a better care-giver.
  • Looking after a cancer patient makes you erase irrelevant elements from life  (This will happen if you listen to the truth within yourself). Somehow you start appreciating a sense of minimalism. Over the years, I have developed an aversion for anything in excess.
  • It helps when you have solid friends standing by you. Having a conversation always makes things lighter. Never say ‘No’ to a good session of laughing. And to a large extent, friends are outsiders to the situation. So, they can give you a better perspective. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
  • It’s very necessary to refill one’s inner self even as you are spending days and nights looking after a person. It could be a walk, conversations, a nice meal, good book, music, a new hair-cut, looking at the sky or just soaking in the Art of Being. You give better when you have something to give. For that you need to replenish your own self.
  • Be kind to yourself. Some days, you will feel as if you are losing the battle. Some days you will feel the warmth of sunshine. Don’t run away from feelings. If you want to cry, go ahead. Tears can make you feel lighter. Don’t feel ashamed. It’s fine to be vulnerable.
  • No matter how dark the night is, the morning will always break. And there are chances that you might feel a little better.
  • One day, you will be larger than your grief, loss, failures. Till then, be open and compassionate.

 

 

People called Kerala…

This narrative has lived within me for almost four months. I feel, there is always a right time for the story to travel. From my heart to the world outside, In between experiencing the story and telling the story, Kerala has seen worst of times in terms of devastating flood and loss of human lives and property. Now, Kerala is back on its feet.
In India, it’s now time for celebrating Diwali. Diwali, the festival of lights is all about joy, happiness, love and light. This narrative is all about celebrating that light. How dark would be darkness without this light… 
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Hussain:  The navigator, the philosopher
Hussain drove us from Fort Kochi to Palakkad. He also took us to Arakal and in the beginning of the journey, he told us, “I will take you to such a place that you will forget Ooty.” Hussain is the symbol of my India — liberal, secular, quirky, gentle and caring.

He has six friends and he tells us they will stand by each other no matter what happens. Before marriage, he told his wife, “You don’t need to adjust with my parents but you need to do so as far my friends are concerned.” He talked about his wife in a gentle and caring way. He makes sure that his wife has her share of fun and enjoyment. “Just because we are men that does not mean that only we will enjoy. A woman is a human being first and she must enjoy.”

He loves making money and also living life king size. He says, “What’s the point of making money if you can’t enjoy money.” Once in a while, the seven friends meet, enjoy a drink and eat a nice meal of rice and mutton curry. And the icing on the cake is after a drink or two, they all philosophize about life. So what will he do if his wife falls in love with another man? “The only answer to the question is to love her more,” said Hussain.
His friends are from different socio- economic backgrounds. Some of them are government officials, some of them are businessmen. Some of them are earning lots of money and some of them are not. But their bonding is all about love and memories. If they are all together and one friend says, “I am just going somewhere and I will be back in five minutes.” Even if he comes back after two hours, nobody asks him, ‘why did he come so late? Where did he go?’ There are no questions asked and they just take up from where they leave.
Once they all had gone to watch a movie after buying tickets at a high price (and with lots of struggle).  And when they were just about to enter the movie hall, they got a phone call  informing them about someone’s death. They all had a quick discussion and decided that ‘the person is already dead. So, even if we won’t watch the film, he won’t come back. So, it’s better to watch the movie.”
They all seem to see death from a different perspective. Once all of them had gone for a funeral and one of them cracked a philosophical joke about life and death and they all broke into a smile. And then somebody came and told them, “Do you know where are you?” And then one of the friends said, “Listen brother, tomorrow if someone dies in my family, you can come and crack a little joke about life and death. We won’t mind.”
Hussain loves the beautiful landscape of Kerala. He has a warm, loving relationship with Kerala’s swaying coconut trees, its backwater, waterfalls and the mesmerizing monsoon  “Only if you have something tender in your heart and mind then only you will love nature. Otherwise, you will end up buying things at the malls only.”
I asked him about his friends’ religious background. “We all are from different religions — Muslims, Hindus and Christians.” When I told him, “God bless you.” He told me, “No, no, say something more.” I told him, “May nature bless you.” Hussain broke into a gentle smile approving of my statement this time.
Hussain being Hussain has his own theory of people of Kerala going crazy about football teams and forming groups like, “Argentina — fans of Kallepally. Hussain says, “Byakitya nehin hai.. (They don’t have a personality of their own and that is why they are becoming part of the collective.)
Najeeb — The quiet soccer-loving man
Our meeting was accidental. My friend Lekha and I were taking a morning walk in Fort Kochi on a lazy Sunday morning and on an impulse we just went to check out a kiosk which had a board about daily trips to Alleppey or Alappuzha.  And we somehow liked the deal and decided to go there. Najeeb took us to Alleppey. When I expressed my desire to have coffee at the quintessential India Coffee House, he enthusiastically took us to one. We were in Kerala when the FIFA World Cup 2018 was at its peak. You got to be in Kerala to believe the state’s soccer mania. As we were all taking pictures of those huge cut-outs of Messi, Ronaldo standing tall in small, clean villages of Kerala, we wondered about Najeeb’s soccer love. And then when we were inside the car, we asked, ‘Najeeb, which team are you supporting?” He kept quiet and pretended not to hear. But when we persisted, he said with a tinge of sadness, “Germany and imagine they are out.” But the moment he uttered the name of Germany, we all broke into laughter. He also joined us. In his quiet dignified ways.
In no time, he understood our taste and stopped at beautiful churches so that we could admire its wonderful architecture. He took us to beautiful beaches so that we could revel in sunsets.
Gulab — For whom time waits
Gulab is beyond time. He doesn’t wait for time, I have a feeling time waits for him. He took us in his auto from Kalepally to Kalpathy, a heritage village in Kerala. As we were roaming around in the village, Gulab told us to give us a call once we were free. He insisted that he would take us back home ( Earlier in the morning, Gulab was really kind enough to wait at a pre-primary school when we just wanted to spend some time with the kids.)
We had only heard of Gulab’s ‘time sense’ before. That day, we experienced it. Every phone -call to Gulab was met with the standard answer, “I am on my way.” The shopkeepers, the autorickshawallahs, the vegetable vendors were all amused to see three of us sitting comfortably on the verandah of a dilapidated house without a nameplate.
While waiting for Gulab, I suddenly had this intense urge to have a samosa. And my friend Ayaz immediately bought one for me which came on a plantain leaf (you see, South India is a little nicely different from North India). The samosa was really tasty. And thanks to our smartphones, three of us happily indulged in some photo session too. Even after all this self-indulgent acts, still there was no sign of Gulab.
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(While waiting for Gulab…)
In that state of mind, every auto-driver looked like Gulab. But you know, life is not actually that miserable. So, suddenly we saw our Gulab coming and then as they say, time stopped for us.
Living in cities, chasing deadlines at work has made most of us very impatient. We are always in a hurry, always trying to manage time. But for Gulab, time is something else. It moves or stops as per his wish. Gulab is the ultimate boss.
Ordinary city mortals like us can only wait for Gulab.
As the state was trying to cope with the tragedy,  we made phone calls to find out about the well-being of Hussain, Najeeb, Kumaran, Gulab and their families. They were all safe)