1947: My Mother’s Story
We have all heard and read about the horrors of partition. Sunita Bhalerao’s mother lived through it. In this piece, Sunita shares her mother’s hair-raising story of escape during Partition.
1947 – a landmark year for India and Pakistan. Undivided India was hacked into two independent nations. Hacked is the key word. Land hacked, homes hacked and people hacked – literally.
My parents were born and grew up into young adults in Multan. It’s part of Pakistan now but belonged to ‘Undivided India’ as it was back then. My mother grew
up in a rich Zamindar family with an abundance of love and riches, described by her as – rivers of milk and cream. Pots of gold with inscribed jewellery in each child’s name, were kept buried underground. Education was considered equally important for both son and daughters, and my mom graduated to be a teacher back then. She was betrothed to an equally rich, well educated and handsome young boy, from a highly respected family. It was an ideal happy life she would move into. Then the rumblings of uncertainties appeared just before the partition. Hindus were being asked to leave and move to Hindustan. Stories filtered in of unthinkable and unbelievable communal waves of intolerance and hate crimes. Finally, at the stroke of midnight, on the 15th of August 1947 – India got its independence. However for millions of Hindus and Muslims, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, it was nothing short of hell breaking loose. Indecision on my grandfather’s part in accepting the circumstances earlier, led his family to finally face a day when they had to flee their home without even time for my mother to pick up her dupatta.
My mom narrated how they were piled into a truck, as they fled Multan heading towards Delhi, leaving all their belongings behind. The journey was a real nightmare. Fanatics kept slicing their swords through the tarpaulin covers of the truck, hacking any human body they could find in the process. My mother witnessed her elder sister and brother-in-law being brutally murdered. She used to shudder and narrate how her dear elder sister was hacked right in front of her eyes and the blood splattered all over her. She managed to grab and save her six-month-old nephew sleeping on his mother’s lap. It took days till the caked blood could be washed off her face and hands.
After enduring what would be the most torturous journey of their lives, my grandfather, mother and her nephew made it to the refugee camp in Delhi, survivors amongst a dump of dead bodies all around them. My grandfather was given a one room house in Delhi and they did their best to pick up the pieces of their lives. They managed to reunite with my mother’s brother and sister-in-law, who were also lucky to have made it alive, reaching Delhi by another route. In those difficult days, they often missed what they had left behind as they went about making the most of what life had given them again.
My mother got a job as a teacher in a government school and between them, they raised the little orphaned baby with all their love. They had no idea what had happened to the family of the would-be groom my mother had been betrothed to. However providence had its own plans, and two years after reaching Delhi, my grandfather had a chance meeting with his ‘samdhin’ and the saying ‘ marriages are made in heaven’ turned out true for my parents.
My parents were married in July 1950 and soon moved to Pune. My nanaji and the little baby went on to live with my mother’s brother in Delhi. The baby grew up to be a chartered accountant. We four siblings were born in Pune and in spite of the mental scars of their past, our parents nurtured us with an abundance of love and warmth and gave us an education way beyond their means. My papa, my hero, was an exceptionally wise, warm, gentle, compassionate and far sighted person. Ma was the backbone of our family. She was simple, extremely warm and social, pious, generous to a fault and ready to adapt to any situation in life. We never saw, or heard of any bitterness or grudges they held towards what fate had handed them. Love, compassion, warmth and acceptance are the values we inherited and such riches have shaped us into who we are today.
Featured image of truck travelling during partition: Wikimedia Commons
All other images courtesy: Sunita Bhalerao