Letters to Pakistan: Part I
My grandfather told me a pre-partition story.
A family lived in a village in central Punjab with a Hindu and Sikh and Muslim population. There were Shias and Sunnis among the Muslim community, but they didn’t realise that they were Shias and Sunnis because they always stood together against the Hindus and Sikhs and an occasional gora police officer. My grandfather’s story involved the annual Tazia procession, the bonhomie among the Muslim boys, and their absolute determination that the Tazia procession would march in front of the village mandir despite the police order that prescribed a different route for the procession. So each year at this time, everyone got arrested. The way my grandfather told the story, it seemed that this was the most amusing thing that had ever happened in the village. Every male over the age of sixteen was arrested. And there were so many of them, that there was no place in the police lock-up. “The police handcuffed us in pairs and left us in a field,” he told me. “We could walk around, but each of us was tied to another person, which kind of became our jail.”
My grandfather was handcuffed to a Shia boy. Although they were together in their cause, my grandfather didn’t really like him. “So every fifteen minutes, I’d say I needed to go and pee. And of course he’d have to come with me, sit down with me. By the end of it he was begging the policemen to handcuff him to someone else.”
They were all released the next day. More than half-a-century later, my grandfather still chuckled when he remembered his day in the field and the miserable Shia boy.
My mother told me a partition story.
It is also a story about my grandfather. And this story is so common, has so many versions, has been told so many times in films and novels and memoirs, that I always wonder if this is what really happened to my mother, or was it just a story that she had heard from a girl who had heard it from another girl. But here’s the story anyway: A few days before the partition, when it still wasn’t clear if our grandfather’s village was going to be part of India or Pakistan, at a time when riots had already started, all the girls from the family were marched to the village well. “If Hindus and Sikhs attack our village, you all must gather at this well and jump into it,” my grandfather told my mother and the other girls in the family.
It didn’t come to that. The village fell to Pakistan. Hindus and Sikhs were chased away. Apparently nobody had to jump into the well.
I don’t remember asking my mother if she would have jumped into the well along with the other girls if there had been an attack.
There are no morals in these stories. They are both about minor irritants during the birth of a country..
But dear Pakistan, these days it does seem as though every evening we are marched to a well and reminded that that we must jump into it if they attack us. ‘They’? The problem is that the list of potential attackers has grown as large as the country itself.
Meanwhile, every day, we manage new ways to torment the person handcuffed to us, we drag him for a pee that we don’t really need to take.
(Continued on next page)
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