Thursday, 21 July 2011

Déjà vu


Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the partition of India, to mark the event the BBC are showing a number of programs, and we have been following some of them.

I watched a travel log made by a British Asian comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar last week and have tonight watched a 90-minute program titled The Day India Burned Partition.

Like so many BBC documentaries they are wonderfully crafted pieces of work that you watch for the people and the scenery and pick up the educational bits without really noticing them.
Parts of both programs are very moving to anyone watching, but for me they repeatedly touched a very personal chord.

Today’s’ program covered with historic footage from the time, and interviews with several people who lived through the times, the events leading up to, the people influencing and the catastrophes that followed the carving up of a country into smaller pieces based on majorities following certain religious persuasions.

I cannot recall the entire historic details; some points and people however remain in my mind

The atrociously arrogant daughter of the viceroy Mountbatten who presided over the entire land at the time, with her tales of a household with five thousand staff including gardeners for the indoor plants, and someone whose job was to pluck the birds.
How her father invited into the home for the first time in history “ordinary Indians- you know ordinary ministers lawyers and doctors”
And how her mother had made several trips to the poor people in their refugee camps, camps that resulted from the movement of people between the two newly created countries.

The stories of aspiring Indian political leaders stirring up the tension with warning that the people’s religion was in danger, their women were at risk, their ways were being eroded, egged on to the point where it took a minor spark to ignite riots that culminated in the deaths of five thousand people over three days.

The images of a certain British barrister who had never traveled beyond Paris before but was given the job of carving up India and who went on to do so from his office, working his way through a series of maps marked with rivers and railways that must be preserved within regions, and who is coolly discussing majorities of just over 50% as he ponders where a piece of land will fall.

The story of what happens when people become so engulfed in their religious madness, and crazed notions of women and the collective honor they cease to behave like human beings, a story of unimaginable brutality which is portrayed as some sort of extreme devotion, a Sikh elder who because of an apparent fear that the Muslims would take a woman from the village instead chooses to collect all the women of the village aged between 10 and 40 years including two of his own daughters and beheads them.

There are stories of utter chaos that follow the partition which was decided behind closed doors mainly between the viceroy and the barrister, and without even the most senior Indian politicians involved in the deal being really aware of the exact borders until too late.

The people on the ground unaware that the borders have been decided already proceeding to cleanse entire villages with the minority “types” that happen to be within majority areas to secure the majority they think will guard their piece of land.

The secrecy around the exact borders and the animosity created somehow between these people who had lived together for centuries that meant fifteen million ordinary people on the ground who suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the border and tried to move en mass on foot to cross the new border into a country of their religions counterparts, with one million of them dying in the process.

I watch the images and they are not someone else’s story, they are not some other time, they are here and now, this is what empires leave behind, this is how superpowers and their leaders can behave when they believe that the people of the countries they occupy are intrinsically inferior and less worthy than themselves.

I listen to the elderly people talking about their memories of an India before partition, of cities with mixed neighborhoods, of childhood friend of other religions; and their questions remain in the air, why did they get sent away? Why did this happen?
There is no answer, and today there are the same questions once more somewhere else.

But for me the déjà vu moment was when I watched the first program with Sanjeev Bhaskar a young man who grew up in the UK making his trip across India, stopping at various cities and mixing with the whole spectrum of people from the yacht owning elite to the street children.

He ultimately crosses the border into Pakistan in search of his ancestral roots, a village his father left at partition, and to which no one from the family has returned since, he makes the trip armed with a hand drawn map of the village supplied by his father in the UK and with whom he keeps in touch throughout the trip with his mobile.

He finds the village, unchanged from his little sketch, but in a country very different to the one that existed before, he sits on a bench with a map of India pre-partition and tries to explain his feelings about what happened here.

I watched Sanjeev with his father’s map and I imagine H or H+ one day making a trip with a picture from their mother’s photo album or maybe a google map of the spot where the house used to be, I imagine them sitting on a bench somewhere phoning me here to tell me they have found the site, the house is not there anymore, the street is not there anymore, in fact the city and the country now have different names. They get off the bench and dust their clothes down ending the telephone conversation to tell me they are coming “home”.
A&Eiraqi said...
I've just woke up and I wish that I'm still sleeping ad this is a nightmare!
As soon as I started reading this post; I linked it to the sorrow which Iraq is living nowadays.

Let's hope that our circumstances are different; I'm not going to say we're different as you're right about the religious madness but ,we are surrounded by many countries which don't want Iraq to be fragmented.
They're still losing in our country
I have to admit that; I'm scared and I don't want to live till you post about the phone call conversation between you and H or H+.
Wish I go before them and tell everyone that I'm dying there before I see it beocme fragmented.

This madness should stop; it should.

I'll say Allah kereem as I don't have anything else to say!!

15 August 2007 07:47
Yasmin (Blanche) said...
dear 3eeraiq Medic,
Lovely post..
the way u write yr thoughts down is indeed amazing..
sadness ovecame me making me feel like crying..
and though incredibly heartbreaking, incredible full of helpless sorrow, I too, wish not to live the day when the expectation we all fear might come true..
i still hope for a miraculous turn of events..Balki..
Ohayyee irakitech..
16 August 2007 08:04
3eeraqimedic said...
Sorry to be so blunt, but as I said before the blog is black.
A few years ago when there was murmuring on how many Kurds lived in Kirkuk I did not take it seriously, then a few years later it was the Kurdish history of Mosul and I listened incredulously, and today we see that a small minority of "Kurdish" Yazidis brutally massacred by an "extremist Sunni Muslim organization" I start to see a clearer picture, at this rate H and H+ will have to visit all three post Iraqi partition countries if they want to see the villages their ancestors came from.
16 August 2007 20:26
3eeraqimedic said...
Many thanks for your words, for very personal reasons they are very touching.

I know how you and AEIraqi feel about not wanting to see this future, but in fact human beings can and do survive unimaginable injustice and come out strong. Maybe not as individuals but as a collective, Iraqis have been around for a very long time, something that really upsets some Newfoundlanders and island folk of this world.
16 August 2007 20:31

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