Paradise Lost: MAJID SHEIKH
“The Men From Dumaili Are Handsome, Tall, Fair …!”
She is very frail, in her eighties, yet sharp as sharp can be.
While eating a sandwich for lunch outside a library in Cambridge (United Kingdom), I was talking on my cell phone to my brother in Lahore in chaste ‘well-lubricated’ Punjabi, she stopped and looked at me, almost lovingly, with her piercing eyes.
“Are you from Lahore”, she asked in a Punjabi that I recognised was from my city. I felt embarrassed at using ‘lubricated’ Lahori Punjabi within her hearing and told my brother I would ring later.
She came confidently and sat down next to me.
“When I hear a Lahori speak, all my hate disappears”. That was a conversation stopper.
“Why hate anyone?” was my response.
Ajit Kaur smiled, sort of embarrassed. She thought about it for a bit, and then replied:
“The killings of Partition live within me. It will only go away when I myself am cremated. But I miss Lahore and dream of returning to our house on Chamberlain Road, and visiting my village in the Potohar. I am from Dumaili and my father had a huge business in Lahore and I went to Kinnaird College when 1947 came upon us”.
Her pain was understandable.
I tried to tone down her fiery pain.
“I know someone from Dumaili”, I tried a friendly response.
“Really, who is it?” she shot back.
“Oh, he was my driver-cum-cook, a sharp handsome six-footer who is currently trying to go to Saudi Arabia as a driver”.
She smiled. A loving look appeared on her face. She went on.
“The men from Dumaili are handsome, tall, fair, always wanting to go on an adventure, even if it is to a desert”. She laughed throwing her head back. She was in the mood, this frail old lass from Chamberlain Road.
“Tell me your story” I suggested.
Ajit Kaur belonged to a Sikh family from the Potohar and her father had a food supply business in Lahore. He had invested heavily in the education of his two sons and three daughters, and Ajit was the youngest, and she surely seemed to have been a very beautiful lady in 1947.
“I never believed Punjabis would stoop to such a low to kill their own kith and kin. They overnight became butchers. When the killing started my father rang a family friend, Dr Yusuf, who warned us not to leave the house as armed men roamed outside. The next day he sent in the military and we were whisked away without our belongings to Amritsar. That is the last I saw of my beloved Lahore”.
The old woman after all these years had tears welling up in her eyes.
A weeping woman paralyses a man. So, to divert her from her memories, I suggested she tell me about her family and village. She tensed up.
“My uncle (‘taaya’) lived in the village, and when Muslim goondas surrounded the village he took out his kirpan and with the help of his son beheaded his two beautiful daughters”.
I sat there utterly shocked and my inner sense told me to try to end this conversation quickly. But then I wanted to know the full story. She helped me out.
“If he had not done this they would have raped them and then killed or taken them away to our family’s eternal shame”, she went on. “We respect him for his bravery. He now lives in Delhi and every time I mention the village he still cries. You have no idea how deep the scars of Partition are. This is a holocaust that will forever haunt us”.
She wanted to talk on and on, but stopped. She probably did not want to embarrass me.
“Son, what happened to your families in 1947?” she asked. This was the break I wanted.
“Well, my father’s family had two houses, one inside Mochi Gate in Lahore and the other inside Hatti Darwaza in Amritsar, which the Sikhs attacked and killed off two house servants”, I told her.
She calmed down.
“But my wife’s family lived in Amritsar and their house was completely burnt down. The family escaped a few minutes before the Sikh goondas came brandishing their kirpans”.
I was certainly not competing with Ajit Kaur on trying to equal my gory side of the story, but she had calmed down. This was my chance to move in with a little factual story.
“Bibi, do you know that Maharajah Ranjit Singh was invited in 1799 to take Lahore by the Muslim Arain community, who opened Lahori Gate for his troops to come in”.
She smiled as if she was part of the secret deal.
Finally our conversation took a turn for the better.
“Bibi, in history there is always reason to hate, especially when mutual benefit does not exist. When it does exist, all lines of hate disappear”, I said.
There was a long pause and she stood up to leave.
“Son, the problem is, I will not be around”.
I watched her slowly walk away and thought of the pain millions live in every day in the sub-continent, yet shy away from talking about it.
It was a pleasure meeting you, Ajit Kaur.
My city still loves you … unconditionally.
[Courtesy: Dawn. Edited for sikhchic.com]
August 28, 2014
Conversation about this article
1: Amarpal Singh (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), August 28, 2014, 7:16 AM.
The Partition always reminds me of a lesson we used to study in elementary school of two cats that clawed each other for a piece of food and the monkey intervened to settle it for them by promising to divide it in two equal parts. He would purposely break it uneven and then eat a part of the bigger one to balance it out until the whole lot was gone and the cats were left with nothing. The monkey that drew the line in the sand for the Partition is still in control by deciding who gets which political leaders, weapons, trade preferences ...
2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 28, 2014, 8:00 AM.
Majid ji and Ajit ji, you have opened the floodgate of memories, despite the violence and insanity of the blackest of periods in human history. There is a surfeit of Punjabis from Pakistan working in Malaysia and every time I see anyone in the supermarket or computer mall where they mostly work, I am at once attracted to them, or, rather when they see me, they hail me with a "Sat Sri Akal, Sardar ji." To this I warmly respond and always ask where he is from. They reply: "Pakistan." "Oye, betay, I know that. Just tell me which town or village." Then they warm up and comment: "Sardar ji, you speak Punjabi like we do." "Betay, I was born there and was 14 years old when I left, nearly barefooted." If one of them is from Lyallpur, I tell them that was my soil and knew every inch of it, including the names of all the eight bazaars and of course the famous Ghanta Ghar (Clock Tower). Now they have mutilated the name of Lyallpur into Faizlabad and I always, with mild disdain, say: "Call it Fazoolbad ." [Fazool = useless]. After Partition I have never gone back nor do I want to. I like the Lyallpur fossilized in my mind as I left it. I was licensed as a radio amateur with a call sign of 9M2SS in 1962. My greatest pleasure used to be when on occasion I would pick up a station in Lyallpur. I would invariably ask in which part of Lyallpur he lived and often I would hear, "Sardar ji, you wouldn't know." "Try me," I would say. Once he gave me an address: "Then you would have been next to the big naala (drain) flowing between you and the road. If you look straight at 12 o'clock you will see a police station; at ten to three position you would have the MB School and at quarter past 3 position, you would have the telephone exchange. Do you want to know where the jail was?" For the time being this is enough of the nostalgic trip. Hundreds of years of integrative neighbourhoods were destroyed in a matter of weeks and we are still licking the wounds.
3: Kaala Singh (Punjab), August 28, 2014, 9:04 AM.
The Partition was a great human tragedy, especially for the Punjabis on both sides who suffered the most due to events triggered by outside forces. It is time to do some soul-searching and learn from the past. Like Punjabis of both sides have discovered they were happy being together, it is time to repair ourselves and live in peace for ever.
4: Kaala Singh (Punjab), August 30, 2014, 12:11 AM.
Many Sikhs having knowledge of what transpired during Partition think that the conflict between Sikhs and Muslims could have been avoided had the Sikhs remained neutral and not sided with India. The Partition of Punjab and India was essentially a consequence of Hindu-Muslim conflict and Sikhs had nothing to do with it. They became unwilling participants and victims of this conflict due to the immature, uneducated and inept leadership that started playing in the hands of the Congress, yes, the same Congress that gave us 1984! Sikhs should have taken the British offer and become independent. For those who don't know, the British had even offered a seaport so the Sikh homeland would not be a landlocked country. For those who doubt this line of thought should consider the following facts. It is the Sikhs who suffered the most and lost everything, including their holy places and the most fertile lands in West Punjab. The incompetent leadership in 1947 of Tara Singh / Baldev Singh and coterie did not even negotiate a merger agreement to protect Sikh interests like the Kashmiris did. Sikhs gained nothing by joining India. It would have been the same if they had joined Pakistan. The only wise approach would have been to go the independent route. It is worth recalling that in many cases, land allotments to re-habilitate refugees from West Punjab were cancelled in parts of India when it was found that many of them were Sikhs while Bengali refugees from East Bengal were readily settled everywhere. In 1984 these re-settled Sikhs were again driven out of their homes and properties allotted to them as compensation for the losses suffered in 1947!
5: Kaala Singh (Punjab), August 30, 2014, 7:43 AM.
In my humble opinion and the opinion of many who have experienced 1947 and 1984, the conflict with Muslims in 1947 and the conflict with India in 1984 were both avoidable had we followed the neutral and independent approach and not become pawns in the bigger game between Hindus and Muslims, something like Sweden which did not get involved in any conflict or war despite being right in the conflict zone and just concentrated and protected its own interests. Sikhs were recognized as the third entity by the British. Due to our special relationship with the British, we could have extracted many concessions. To give an example, the whole district of Gurdaspur with only 50% Muslim population, was about to be given to Pakistan but was saved due to the intervention of a few wise Sikh leaders we had at that time. For those who don't know, Gurdaspur is the only physical link between India and Jammu & Kashmir. One can imagine its importance of this piece of land!
6: Musa Khan (London, England), February 09, 2016, 12:04 PM.
The horrors of 1947 should not be left as just memories, nor should the life of its people pre-47. I myself am from Potohar and wish to hear stories of the Sikhs from my region. I have asked my grandfather about the Sikhs that he remembers. In my village there were no Sikhs, I'm told, but he does tell of the horrors inflicted on them in the neighbouring villages. Before the last generation departs we should try and record these memories so as to show to the new generations that there was a time that we lived in harmony together.