An elegy for peace

India and Pakistan have recently celebrated their respective independence anniversaries.  Self-declared pundits took it upon themselves, again, to re-examine the context and outcome of the Partition in 1947.  In Northern areas of either country nearly every family is able to relate personal tragedies from this period.  “It was”, as Dickens had written much earlier, “…the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  There were individuals who willingly risked life and limb to protect others, while others succumbed to inner demons and readily turned on their erstwhile neighbours and friends.

My father’s family migrated from Shekhupura (near Lahore) while my mother’s side had relocated from Bhera, in Pakistan.  Only rarely could either of my grandmothers be persuaded to share all that they had witnessed and experienced in 1947, as they did not wish to risk reopening old wounds, even decades later.  My paternal grandmother (“Beji,” a short form of “bebe” with the “ji” suffixed as an acknowledgment of elderly respect) was made of sterner stuff and would occasionally relate stories of her life “back in Pakistan.”  She would fondly remember the shop my grandfather had owned, their stable of horses, the granary where she had hidden all her jewellery and other valuables in sacks of grain as they had hoped “to return once things settle down”, her daily routine of churning fresh butter and occasionally burning her hand when taking out “val vāle” (multilayered) parathas from the hot “tandoor”, etc.  She would end her monologue each time with “sab reh gayā Pakistan” (“All that is now left, in Pakistan.”)  This expression was turned by us into a comic punchline around the family dinner table.  When asked how a particular dish like, say, Kheer (rice pudding) had turned out, there would be a chorus of, “Acchhi hai, lekin asli kheerān reh gayiān Pakistan!” (“It is good, but the real Kheers remain, in Pakistan.”)  I wonder if our counterparts in Pakistan use a similar riposte.

My father had just finished his Engineering and landed in Delhi like millions of other migrant hopefuls, remaining jobless.  He proudly recalled much later, how he eked out a living in those troubled times.  He would wake up at 3 am, rent a bullock-cart and go to the local ice making factory.  Carrying slabs of ice on his back, each three feet square and nine inches thick, he would load up the cart.  Bags of jute, drenched in water would be spread over the top of the ice slabs to slow down their melting in the summer heat.  He would take this load and deliver ice to the neighbourhood restaurants and other business establishments, completing the rounds by around 6 am each day.  This process was then repeated at 3 pm each afternoon, when he would also collect payment for the morning deliveries.  After several months of this routine, he got the much-awaited break and was employed by India’s very first “Public Sector Undertaking” fertilizer factory, a most prestigious job in those days!  He never complained about the cards life had dealt him, nor did he hold a grudge against the people who had forced his family out of their home.

August is a month that has other, bitter-sweet memories for me.  It was during this month several years ago that someone cut short a beloved life – that of my mother.  It is ironic that while she had managed to survive the travails and troubles in what was to become an “alien homeland,” she died a violent death in the safety of our house in Delhi, her “own homeland”.  Ce la Vie.  Life carries on.

Violence is country and religion agnostic, it seems.

In his comments preceding the heart-felt rendition of Qateel Shifai’s ghazal below, Jagjit recollects similarities between his son who shared his date of birth (August 20) with Rajiv Gandhi (ex Prime Minister of India) and their passing on; Jagjit’s son was 18 when he died in a road accident in 1990 while Rajiv was killed by a suicide bomber in 1991.  Jagjit wonders whom he might dedicate this composition to.  While crying out for universal peace, one wonders if this dirge is really a yearning for that elusive tranquility within his own grief-stricken heart.

Time bridges pain, even across borders, and, hopefully also heals it.

“Dard se merā dāman bhar de, Yā Allah

Yā phir mujhko deewānā kar de, Yā Allah

… Yā dharti ke zakhmon par marham rakhde

Yā merā dil pathhar karde, Yā Allah”

[Fill my garment (heart) with pain, O Lord

Then, if you wish, render me insane, O Lord

…Either provide salve for the lacerated world/earth

Or, make me stone-hearted, O Lord]

11 Replies to “An elegy for peace”

  1. Glad you are able to connect with our collective past and (still) like it! Each of us has stories and I believe they all point to a basic narrative – love and compassion must remain front and foremost, all the time.

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  2. Such a poignant story. Your grandmother’s longing for a past that was torn from her set against the teasing of her grandchildren who grew up in a post-war era and couldn’t fathom her pain. In the 70s, just before my father went to Lahore as part of a WHO mission, a neighbour’s mother appraoched him with the request to see if he could find her old home. They had fled, pulling the door shut behind them, hoping they would return one day to reclaim a lifetime of belongings and memories. That was not to be, but for Biji, the pull was still strong. My father was able to trace the address, took photographs and also shot a 16 mm film (if I remember right) which we all sat down to watch together on his return. Biji’s expression turned from one of an eager young woman’s to that of bewilderment – this was not the home she had come to as a bride. She shed a few quiet tears and then said they were the lucky ones, they had made a life in India.

    This song that I came to know only through the Pakistani television serial Humsafar, but which was originally written by Naseer Turabi at the time of another separation, that of Bangladesh from Pakistan, captures the emotions.

    Woh humsafar tha
    Tarq-e-taaluqaat pe…
    Roya na tu, na main
    Lekin yeh kya ke chain se
    Soya na tu, na main

    Woh humsafar tha
    Magar us se hum-nawa’i na thi…
    Wo hamsafar tha
    Magar us se hum-nawa’i na thi..

    Ke dhoop chhaon ka alam raha, judaai na thi…
    Adaavatein thi…
    Taghaaful thaa…
    Ranjishein thhi magar

    Bicharne wale main sab kuch tha bewafai na thi…

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    1. Beautifully said, Shagorika.

      As Nida Fazli’s asha’ar states:

      ..ek hī dhartī ham sab kā ghar jitnā terā utnā merā
      dukh sukh kā ye jantar-mantar jitnā terā utnā merā..
      …khushiyoñ ke baTvāre tak hī ūñche nīche aage pīchhe
      duniyā ke miT jaane kā Dar jitnā terā utnā merā.

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  3. Why do moths gravitate to fire? Why does mankind huddle around the campfire of languages and religions as though everything beyond is cold and dark? Maybe it’s encoded in our DNA, but that’s what maps our world, and history repeats itself.

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    1. Thanks, no real answers to conundrums. As Cat Steven sang:

      ….When you crack the sky, scrapers fill the air.
      Will you keep on building higher
      ’til there’s no more room up there?
      Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
      Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?

      I know we’ve come a long way,
      We’re changing day to day,

      But tell me, where do the children play?

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