Punjab Journal: ‘Languaged’ Out

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by Diditi Mitra

Pindi Attachi House

Pre-packaged offering for those who have passed — is that what Pindi Attache House was selling? Pindi refers to offering on behalf of one’s family member who has passed — that’s what it means for Bengali Hindus. The busy lives that people lead today certainly make it difficult to set aside time for such rituals. Like pre-packaged food that one just goes home and heats up, pre-packaged religious offerings would mean that the only thing one would have to do is make the trip to the place of the offering? And, the availability of pre-packaged pindi in the market also means that capitalism had reached a new height. Nothing is sacred any more. After I spoke to a colleague though, I realized that pindi in the context of Punjab does not mean any of those things that were dancing through my head. Meena Dhanda’s answer was quite anti-climactic — not so exciting, and in fact, it was a heartbreaking reminder of the trauma endured by the Indian subcontinent. Pindi, she said, is sometimes used to refer to Rawalpindi, now in Pakistan.

Quite possibly, the owners of the attache store had connections to Rawalpindi. They migrated, not in the traditional use of the word, but in another way - The Partition of India on the basis of religion (Hindu and Muslim) and the resultant creation of Pakistan when India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947. Punjab, being on the border of these two nationalist projects, was thus divided into East and West Punjab. The eastern part remained in India and western part now belonged to Pakistan.

People were forced to leave their homes. More than twelve million refugees moved between East and West Punjab itself, with a total of about fifteen million who had been uprooted. In The Other Side of Silence, Urvashi Butalia writes that People travelled in buses, in cars, by train, but mostly on foot in great columns called kafilas, which could stretch for dozens of miles.” It was the world’s biggest mass migration in less than nine months.” Death under these dire circumstances was almost guaranteed. About two million people died. Families were separated.

As a second generation bearer of the The Partition memory, I personally know people whose families are split by the border. The contemporary Urdu poet Nida Fazli of whom I am an ardent admirer had made the decision to continue living in India, although his parents moved to the newly formed Pakistan. Ethnic cleansing, including violence that targeted women, marked yet another dimension of this separation. Communities that coexisted for almost a millennium were now arch enemies of each other, attempting to erase the syncretic fabric of the society. In Rawalpindi, ‘A Muslim horde had descended on Kahuta like a wolf pack, setting fire to the houses in its Sikh and Hindu quarters with buckets of gasoline. In minutes the area was engulfed in fire and entire families, screaming pitifully for help, were consumed by the flames. Those who escaped were caught, tied together, soaked with gasoline and burned alive like torches.” Muslims, too, were not spared by the Hindus, contrary to what many Hindus would like to believe. Click here for a sample of stories of survival told by the Muslim refugees to Pakistan.

The beast in all of us had been unleashed.

Click on this link for a pictorial tour of this loss and trauma endured by people of the Indian subcontinent.

In Punjab, the violence was especially acute. It was the storm center of partition.”  Sikhs, who formed a third community in Punjab unlike Bengal, were dispersed through central parts of Punjab where the dividing line between East and West Punjab was drawn - an important contributor to the intensity of violence in the province.  The Punjabi Sikhs who moved to the Indian side of the border faced another loss. Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak who was the founder of Sikhism, was now in Pakistan. It was no longer easily accessible.

Although my paternal grandfather migrated from what is now Bangladesh (East Pakistan at the time of The Partition and only in 1971 did it emerge as a nation independent from Pakistan) prior to The Partition, the trauma of separation from home and being forced to re-imagine one’s identity and homeland  were still present. In my father’s voice, I could sometimes feel the anger and the sadness of being exiled from home.’ He was born in Rangoon, a time when Burma/Myanmar was part of the British administration, and would visit his ancestral home in what is now Bangladesh on vacation from his school. I remember that house in Bangladesh,” he said one day on the phone, and I still remember the house in Burma where I was born.” Any mention of Bangladesh troubled him, I remember. I still hear the lament for what once was India in the voice of Indians, like parents who lament separation from their children, especially those with whom they can never be reunited.

So the trauma and memory of _The Partition _lingers. One finds them in spaces unexpected, like Pindi Attache House in Ludhiana, Punjab. The Partition is A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future. Personal accounts of the trauma are still being recovered, still being documented. It continues to inform the identities of those with ties to the Indian subcontinent.

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