Partition Survivor from Bengal Recalls The Horrors of 1947 Riots & Exodus

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I was nowhere near born when the Partition of 1947 happened. Yet, it is a topic that has intrigued me ever since I learnt about it through the mundane pages of my History books that rarely leaked anything beyond crude political facts, dates and timelines. Actually, if I think about it, I have had my first tryst with Partition when I came to know as a child that my ancestors originally belonged to Bangladesh. Till then it was nothing more to me than a neighbouring country sharing our language and national animal.

As we all know, Punjab and Bengal were the only two provinces hit hard by the blow of Partition. Gruesome riots were fuelled, millions of lives ended quicker than the fictional Red Wedding in Game of Thrones that haunts Gen Y for months. It is almost unbelievable that these two zones have still preserved a secular outlook even with the rest of India being bamboozled into religious fanaticism.

Most of my idea about present Partition has emerged from the literature of Khushwant Singh, Manto, Ismat Chughtai and a series of Bengali writers. Recently I was reading William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns where he expressed how the aftermath of partition led to the death of elegance and exclusivity of Delhi that the Mughals had so carefully maintained. I realised Partition is a subject that will find diverse explanations from millions of its survivors.

My Grandmother’s Lucky Escape

Like every other Indian, I was growing up in an overly-concocted essence of nationalism, with a special inching towards the national anthem, Indian Army (as depicted by Bollywood) or anything remotely related to Mera Bharat Mahan. So, at a tender age of 7, when my uncle first revealed my ancestral roots and attributed my origin to another country, I sternly rejected it. It was only when I got verbal confirmation from my grandparents that they were indeed refugees once, that I had to accept the facts half-heartedly.

Over the years, my nationalistic sentiments mellowed (thankfully), and a general interest sprouted to know about their lives before 1947. Picking grains of Muri (puffed rice) from her bowl, I leaned onto my Thamma’s lap, as she shared bits and pieces of her life before she became my grandma.

My grandmother was a little village girl, eldest of a number of siblings that give you a headache to remember all their names. She spent her days playing, running around, and learning the basic Bengali alphabets — when she got a break from housework and looking after her little brothers and sisters. When Partition struck in 1947, all she remembers was the frantic running, the screaming and the blood; before long she lost everything she endeared and found herself huddled into a large barge that brought her family to Kolkata. For some days, her family lived in temporary refugee shelters that would later turn into the present dingy colonies of South Kolkata. Thankfully, she was too young to endure post-traumatic stress disorder; or maybe too ancient to be diagnosed.

Soon, she was sent off…..
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