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     Volume 7 Issue 38 | September 19, 2008 |

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Under the Same Sky-IX (Part-III)
The Last Days
Before Partition

Parveen Ahmad
The journey of despair and uncertainty. www.indhistory.com

My parents' decision to leave India, to opt for Pakistan and to travel across the yet invisible 'borders' to a newly founded country, was slow and painful.

Since the early 1940s we had seen political events that had caused many a backlash of social turbulence. My parents were in a dilemma. Our last years before the Partition were difficult as we seemed to be caught like passengers in a storm tossed ship. My parents didn't want to leave the boat but they knew it could capsize any moment and we could be thrown into the tumultuous waves. Strangely, it was my father, a different kind of Punjabi who did not feel the need for migrating rather than my mother. He considered himself 'Indian' in an unusual manner, and saw no reason to tear himself away from his place of work, his job and his friends.

My mother, perhaps with a typical woman's instinct for self-preservation, prodded my father to take note of matters and to opt. They would have heated arguments. After fourteen years of marriage and with three children, my mother was getting reconciled to leave her own birthplace and venture to live in the very different milieu of West Panjab. Even if it was a sacrifice on her part she felt it was for our physical safety. Father would say, “Why should we move? Once the British quit India, the politicians will have to talk sense. It's not practical to cut up the country. Don't forget, Gandhi will have to be heard.” My mother would retort:"What hopes! Gandhi will be a voice in the wilderness. Can't you see how incited the Muslims are to get their own homeland. It's in the stars. I've seen it in the cards, there is going to be a lot of bloodshed. We can't just sit here and do nothing.”

My father's voice went into a crescendo “You go if you want to. Do you realise I've got my job here.” My mother yelled back “There you are! Mister Mohammad Saied Qureishi only thinks of his job, not of his family.”

As a little girl of nine I was terrified with their arguments, and wondered what was happening around us that made my parents so angry. We had been moving around on posting ever since we were small, but now, suddenly, it seemed our transfer had a finality. There was no coming back. Where were we going? Why did we have to leave our school, friends, our neighbours, our dear kind servants?

The Calcutta Riots, the most horrendous in the sub-continent proceeded with increased frenzy and despite all the sheltering given by our elders, the closure of schools and confinement to the railway colony, the smoke blackened skies, the smell of burning houses and stench of blood was carried on the evening air. Even as children we could sense the gloom and vanishing comforts of daily life.

The Partition brought with it untold stories of heartbreak and misery. www.indhistory.com

We said farewells to our class friends, we wrote verses to each other in autograph books and swore everlasting remembrance and love. My best friend Prabha Gupta and my sister's friend Urmila Saxena were now less in touch, but we never thought we wouldn't be seeing them ever again. The passion of girlhood friendships is pure, and the vows made to never leave each other are made as innocently as they are unrealistic. We vowed we would keep writing and to meet when the trouble was over.

My father had decided to leave Calcutta, but not India. The Partition of India was becoming more of a reality, neighbours avoided eye contact and turmoil was all over the place. He requested for a posting to Lucknow, my mother's hometown. Perhaps they felt it would be safer, having a large Muslim population. By now there was enough fear in everyone's heart to seek protection in numbers.

A couple of months later we left Calcutta, and the last memories of that once cosmopolitan city, now reduced to factional riots, are embedded in my memory.

The Howrah Bridge a broad and majestic expanse spanning the Hooghly River with separate lanes for trains, buses, cars, pedestrians and cyclists, was a glittering silver painted necklace of girders and arches. It shone in the sunlight, a symbol of Calcutta's growing modernity and style. On the day I recall, my parents were bringing us home after some essential work in the city, we by-passed the bridge. The entire expanse as far as visible was littered with bodies, amidst hundreds of men's sandals, women's slippers, umbrellas, sticks, bags, brick bats and charred cycles and vehicles. Hindu and Muslim processionists while passing each other had indulged in hand-to-hand fights with knives and sticks. It was the price of instigated hatred, intolerance emanating from inhuman politics. At that stage man was no longer man, religion no longer a creed for humanity, and people only recognised their own kind. So the time came to move to Lucknow.

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