The Resilient Refugee

I talk of history which is not the preserve of historians
History that is not the terrain of academics alone
I talk of history that is difficult to forget,
And yet dangerous to remember
History that displaced millions
That killed hundreds of thousands
History whose processes and legacies echo even today
The history of two kin-nations,
India and Pakistan
And the history of all those inconsequential multitudes,
Caught in the vortex, the whirlpool of Partition.

My father was one such tiny speck in the momentous history of those times.
This is the history I inherited
And the history I grew up with
The saga of tears and fears deeply embedded and etched in my mind like a folk tale.

My father, a student in 1947
Was moved from Lahore to Patna medical college
And thus began his Armageddon.
He was part of a ‘Kafila’ of twenty thousand people,
All strangers, midnight’s dispossessed children,
United in adversity
With the tag of a refugee
Sitting like an insult on their honour.
Bruised and beaten, homeless and wounded,
In torrid summer, amidst weeping and wailing,
They slowly began to come to terms with being uprooted.
The onerous, arduous journey and the home my father left behind-
The walled city, the majestic Badshahi mosque, Anarkali bazaar and its narrow lanes
And his entire baggage of fond memories,
All travelled with him in his veins.

And yet I don’t know where the internalised pain went
For a man displaced
He showed a striking lack of bitterness.
Overnight he was reduced from a citizen to an ersatz citizen
Yet early lessons in resilience
And the million spurns
Trained him to cope up with life on new terms.
Like that rare spruce tree that grows on a dry stony slope
And survives even severe summer droughts,
My father was well versed in the practices of denial.
Even after facing all those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
He condensed it all in the metaphor of a physician.
He would describe the savagery, the catastrophe
As only a doctor could.
He worried about the incision, the festering wound
Its post operative care, its healing, its recovery, the health of both the limbs preoccupied him no end.
During the 1965 war, when prodded about India’s position
His answers would be reluctant
Almost a struggle between instinct and cultivated nonchalance.
Delhi and Lahore, he insisted, were his two children
Like a parent, he couldn’t choose between the two
If he loved one, he loved the other too.
As both countries claimed victory, exaggerating the enemy’s losses,
He would emphasise on the need to be cautious.
A doctor by profession, the resilient refugee built himself slowly from scratch,
Rewrote his destiny in a tough but rather well played match.

But I could see he missed Lahore,
That majestic, syncretic city, his home. During the monsoons, when the air would be ripe with that pleasant, dewy petrichor,
He would look up at the the skies with moist eyes,
And his sad demeanour would reveal not only his painful memories
But also his most hopeless desires.
Artfully, he would brush aside his tears, wistfully reciting Mirza Ghalib–
Dil hee to hai na sang-o-khist, dard se bhar na aaye kyon,
Royenge hum hazaar baar, koi humein sataye kyon
(I have a heart that beats, it’s not made of stone and bricks. When my cup of pain brims, I will cry a thousand times).

Sangeeta Kampani, 62, worked with the IRS and retired as a Commissioner of Income Tax, Delhi.

Featured image: Pariplab Chakraborty