Hearing My Grandmother’s Stories of Partition Gave Me a New Lease on Life

“Every Eid, our Muslim neighbours would visit our house to give us Eidi. They knew we are Hindus, so they would clean up the raw chicken and remove the giblet,” says my 77-year-old grandmother, as she fondly, albeit sadly, remembers her time in Pakistan.

Born in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi in 1944, three years before the Partition, my grandmother fondly narrated stories of her childhood. “Our neighbourhood was full of big houses with sprawling verandahs and lush green lawns. Hindus and Muslims lived together as a community,” she says.

As a grown man living in Delhi in post-pandemic India, listening to Naani narrate tales of how Hindu and Muslim families lived in harmony prior to the Partition was bittersweet. In 2022 India, which is plagued by communalism and religious bigotry, tales from a time when communal tension were rare (if any) calmed my otherwise anxious nerves. In a way, my Naani’s Muslim neighbours offering her Hindu family chicken as Eidi reminded me of how Hindu families shielded Muslim families during the 2020 East Delhi riots. When things go south, it is us people who, irrespective of religion, stand with each other when governments fail us.

Also read: The Partition Paraphernalia

“They came to us. The Muslims. And asked us to leave Pakistan and go to India. This was July 1947 when riots and clashes weren’t as intense. They were concerned. They didn’t want any harm to come to us,” says my grandmother with a sigh. Her expressions were melancholic and showed she was in pain when she said this. As the last generation to have witnessed the Partition, my grandmother has always carried the trauma of Partition and a feeling of loss of identity with her.

Aap 15 din mei waapas aa jaana,” they told us. “When we were packing our things and leaving our house, we truly believed we would be back in two weeks. It has been 75 years now,” Naani says. Her tale reminded me of how in 2020, we were told that the Covid-induced lockdown would last only ‘two weeks’. Three waves, thousands of deaths and two years later in 2022, my generation finds itself displaced. Not physically displaced like my grandmother; the displacement is more spiritual. We have lost a sense of identity after staying at home for two years.

“On the train, there was no space to breathe. I could see people falling onto the tracks. This was July 1947, when clashes weren’t as intense,” she says.

Also read: The Living, Breathing Memory of the Partition

For my grandmother, things only got worse after the Partition. She lived in refugee camps and tents for a few days and went to Haridwar with her family. Having left all their property behind, Naani’s parents only carried jewellery, some cash and essentials. The savings were running out and they were forced to sell the family gold. Soon, my Naani’s brothers took up jobs. Unemployment was also an issue back then, so they find it hard to adjust. She eventually came and settled in Delhi.

Woh ek mahina nahi nahayi thi (I didn’t shower for a month),” Naani says.

“Who?” I asked.

“My Maasi. She had so much gold on her which she couldn’t leave behind. So she played smart. She took a waistcoat and stuffed the jewellery in the pockets. She opened up the stitches and sewed some ornaments into the waistcoat so no one could find it. A month later, after she was rehabilitated, she finally took off the waistcoat and showered.”

I was left wide-eyed after listening to the anecdote. Much like any other major historical event, women were also faced with the brunt of Partition. Being a woman, my Naani’s aunt was tasked with saving the family heirlooms and assets. Being a fighter, she persevered and managed to save all the gold.

Listening to my grandmother’s tales of Partition gave me hope that all is not lost – not just yet. I ask her, ‘Yaad aati hai neighbours ki (do you miss your Muslim neighbours?)”.

Kabhi kabhi…,” she says.

Deepansh Duggal is an entertainment and culture writer based in New Delhi. He lives with his mother and naani (they frown at his writings) but he still loves them.

The featured image is an illustration by Pariplab Chakraborty. To view more such illustrations, click here.