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Dying through living memories

Mumbai (2013-02-11): It began as an interview of a film director-cum-author-cum-poet, a Bengali artiste who has won many national and international awards and whose popularity transcends geographical and political borders.

Under camera lights, our conversation turned towards the partition of Bengal in 1947, the migration of populations into West Bengal and East Bengal now to be called East Pakistan followed by the 1971 war and the refugee exodus that followed and then the creation of Bangladesh. Subsequently the migration back into the new country, then decades of illegal migration a continuous and traumatic displacement of peoples.

“My grandmother came to Calcutta from East Bengal at the time of partition” he tells me and till she died a few years back, she always thought she would go back. She lived here for decades but never saw this city as her home. Buddhadeb Dasgupta, the famous film maker who has made award winning films like Bagh Bahadur and Tahader Katha says to me, “it is the common man who suffers the most during political conflicts.

 When the two-nation theory was propagated and it led to the creation of Pakistan, the Muslims of East Pakistan thought that the Hindu rulers would now be gone and the benign rule of Muslim rulers would happen. But what followed was a crushing blow. Genocide and rape became the order of the day. Thank God, my mother’s side of the family left before they could see those horrors. My grandmother never reconciled to it. The dark social reality is that neither before, nor after partition and not even under democracy did the lot of the poor change in East Bengal. It rarely does even here.” Dasgupta’s films reflect that sense of restlessness and social angst.

It is the post-traumatic sense of disrepair that one reads in Manto, Bhisham Sahni and Bapsi Sidhwa’s novels. Adults and children condemned to memories of violence of dislocation. I have interviewed several people on the trauma of partition. Stories of torture and rupture dominate these conversations. A few years ago, in Jerusalem, I met several Jews who wear clothes of their parents who were in tortured in Germany, just so they should “Never Forget”. Some tattoo themselves with names and numbers of relatives killed in the holocaust, some visit the Holocaust Museum, others form support groups or hate groups.

When Atal Behari Vajpayee boarded the bus to Lahore, my mother-in-law asked me hopefully, “kya ab humey vahaan jaaney ke liye visa milega?” Vahaan to her was Multan. A few years later I asked her if I should apply for a visa for her. She replied, “nahii, vahaan ab kya rakha hai?” Her desire to go back to her ancestral home is gone but her memories haven’t dimmed.

A friend’s mother would always talk about how one day the Russians would leave and she would go back to Kandahar. She recalled how she left with a few gold guineas and her two little children. At the border check-post, she gave the gold in exchange for allowing them to let her pass with her children. After some time she would tell us, “jab Taliban chaley jayenge tab main waapas Kandahar jaaungi.” She died a few years ago, her wish unfulfilled, but it is still unsafe to go back to Kandahar.

Next to my bedside lies Rahul Pandita’s memoir, Our Moon has Blood Clots. It is the narrative of a Kashmir Pandit about the migration of their families from the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s. The intensely personal account is gut wrenching. I found myself vacillating between tears of anger and frustrated helplessness. It reminds me of the time my mausi and her family of five left Assam one day in the 1990s, never to go back.

Militants who didn’t want ‘outsiders’ in their state drove them out. It begins slowly, a kidnapping of a neighbour for ransom, a threat there, missed calls, duplicitous conversations ...and families fearing for their lives just leave. My pre-teen cousins had to suddenly leave their schools, their tennis club, and their bungalow for a flat in Delhi. As psychoanalyst Salman Akhtar says, it is not the loss of human relationships that creates the trauma of dislocation hose we can, and will replace instead, it’s the loss of the world itself.

There is no closure for the likes of Pandita. He has ‘settled down’ in Delhi but is forever restless, as if hanging on to the trauma with every page, every memory, every conversation, and every dream. He can’t forget. Nobody does.

© copyright midday

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I am the Editor News, at Asian News International (ANI), Indiaís leading Multimedia News Agency and the India Correspondent for Channel News Asia, a Singapore based broadcaster.
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