FAMILY CHRONICLES ON PARTITION (related to me by my mother)
She had been in the cabbage field now for three days and trains had come and gone. Her preteen son and nephew were with her along with her trusted servant of years.
Her head was spinning and she was nauseous after eating raw cabbage for two and half days, and drinking rain water. She knew her diabetes was out of whack.
Standing in the cabbage field, the events of three days ago seemed dreamlike. When the Mohalla neighborhood watch people had come to tell her and her sons to leave her home for the camp, she had no time to pick up even her jewelry, leave alone food.
Three days ago…………the girl servant is setting the table with fine English china her latest buy to satisfy her penchant for crockery. The food has all been cooked during the day because at night there is a blackout of the whole neighbor hood to deter the Hindu looting mob. The gates to the Mohalla are closed and locked at Maghrib and volunteer Muslim sentries are posted at the gates.
Her physician husband was making the first run to Lahore with her two daughters, one preteen and one with three little boys and expecting the fourth. Their Bentley joining the cavalcade from Amritsar to Lahore just thirty miles but fraught with danger, lootings, murder and rape. All impelled by racial and religious hatred, which was continuously being stoked by the right wing Hindu majority.
The Pakistan Rangers to ward of looters and criminal elements brought up the caravan in the rear and front. Young men from young Pakistan who volunteered as Rangers put their lives on the line to steer this unarmed caravan through a sea of strife, hatred and greed.
She paused at the table, missing her husband. She had willingly let him go with her daughters, stoic and strong, she knew she could face the wait, after all it was only thirty miles to Lahore and how many hundreds of times she had been chauffeured to it to visit her daughter at The Government college for women.
With a headshake she begins to serve the food in the “Dongas”.
What seems far away she hears the roar of the mob of “Saat saree akaal” . They are early today she thinks to herself. The servant comes in and says that a man from the Mohalla wishes to speak to her.
Her brow furrowed she steps out into the Sahen (verandah)
“Bibibji, you must evacuate to the camp immediately, they are coming to burn our Mohalla”
Suddenly her whole life passes in front of her eyes, she hesitates. However from the dilated pupils of his eyes she knows that his fear is real.
“We cannot wait for you” he is almost hysterical in his fear, his voice rising to a disrespectful pitch…….
She looks at her thirteen year old son and her slightly older nephew, and makes an instant decision. She says, “We are ready”.
Going in to get her chador, tuck some money in her shalwar belt, she carefully locks the doors; She is coming back she thinks to herself.
As she leaves the dining room, she sees the fine china, the place settings, the embroidered placemats, and the food in the dongas, steeling herself she quickly turns away…………the sounds of the mob are getting closer.
That was three days ago. The camp was a desolate patch of land where only cabbage grew; there was no shelter from the elements. Every evening it rained, drenching her to the skin and in the morning the severe sun of August shone upon her drying her clothes, and cracking her delicate skin.
She heard the train again………….. “Bibiji, we must get on this train” said her nephew and her family servant in unison.
“Okay ” she agreed. They had done this every day at the time of the arrival of the train.
They walk up the hill to where the train was coming, she looks at the heat rising off the top, and what seems like a thousands dots crammed on its roof.
As it slows to a halt, she sees people everywhere, on the roof, in the compartments, on the stairs.
Her servant and sons push her onto where the two buggies join and she notes that it is a space which could close with a turn or a change in speed of the train and crush her.
“NO” she says emphatically, as the servant attempts to tie her to the handle bars to prevent falling. “No, I will not stand here”, her eyes blazing she gets off and starts walking towards the camp in the cabbage field, the two boys muttering behind her…………complaining.
Meanwhile the servant takes off and anchored to one of the train handles he waves goodbye to the sad looking trio standing in the cabbage field. The woman a mother of five, slightly pudgy from her diabetes, her chador tailing behind her in the mud, the sun burn making her cheeks pink and her hazel eyes bright, the two boys wistfully looking at their last chance to go to Pakistan as the Train to Pakistan hoots its final goodbye and disappears into the horizon.
Bedraggled and depressed the trio stand there and watch as it disappear from sight.
What they did not see was………………. at the next bridge, the Hindu and Sikh fanatics at a level grazing the roof of train had placed a steel wire. As the train sped at full speed under the bridge, the razor sharpness of the wire, coupled with the speed of the train sliced those sitting on top of the roof. As they fell screaming with pain their limbs and bodies sheared as if with a knife, they took with them those on the stairs and sides of the train to a bloody end.
The Train to Pakistan arrived in Lahore, and as the volunteer Rangers searched amongst the bodies in the compartments occasionally they came across someone wounded but not dead.
The trio would learn much later of the fate of the people on the Train to Pakistan.
It would be a week in the cabbage field, with the monsoon rains every night, shooting in the camp, and fear of being invaded by criminal elements of the Hindu and Sikh mob…………before a worn bedraggled man came to rescue them. She did a double take before she recognized that under the rain drenched dust and sweat ridden clothes was the man she loved with all her heart…………
“The borders are closed” he said grimly……………and those were the last words he spoke till they entered the Wagah border and dropped down to kiss the sweet earth of Pakistan. Thirty long and danger ridden miles to freedom…………
Pakistan Zindabad, Pakistan paindabad………..Shukr Alhamdolllilah came out of their parched throats.
This is the story of my Grandmother and my Grandfather…………..