At some point in high school, I had bought Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice Candy Man for myeslf, and had read it. Today, I was reminded of its story when I found out that Deepa Mehta’s film Earth is available online. The book and movie trace the events of the 1947 Partition of India through the eyes of Lenny – a Parsi girl whose family lived in Lahore. In some ways perhaps it has traces of Ms. Sidhwa’s own life, who herself grew up in Lahore, though she now lives in the United States.
Partition. This single English word is has meaning of epic proportions to us South Asians. How is one to remember Partition? A great achievement, or a great failure? Freedom, or freedom to kill, loot, and plunder? In Delhi and Karachi, as All India Radio and Radio Pakistan announced freedom with great fanfare, Punjab was burning. Muslims killed Hindus and Sikhs, and vice-versa on the other side of the border. Trains arrived at Lahore and Amritsar, smeared in blood, loaded with dead bodies, full of flies. In the end, the only thing that died was the soul of the sub-continent.
For millions of South Asians, including my own family, Partition was, and continues to be personal. My aunts and uncles were forced to leave their home in Simla and migrate to Pakistan. They were given six hours notice by a mob of fanatics. They took a train to Lahore with little but the clothes on their backs, and feared for their lives throughout the journey. Thankfully, in their case, they were under the protection of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers. Others, hundreds of thousands of others, were much less lucky. Looking at it all now, there are many ‘what ifs,’ one can contemplate, though perhaps there are few answers to be found. One of the main questions that comes to my mind is, where do the divisions end? Partition may have taken place in 1947, but at least in Pakistan, we have since undergone many additional ‘Partitions.’ Though Partition was sold as a final solution for the communal problems of the sub-continent, the hunger of fanatics was not satiated by the migration of most non-Muslims from Pakistan.
The fanatics continue to be present amongst us. Yesterday it was non-Muslims, today they have set their sights on various hues of Muslims. There is only a single interpretation of Islam according to them, and it is theirs to decide which one that should be. Through their murderous acts, noisy rallies on the streets of Pakistan, and whispering campaigns behind closed doors, they are doing their best to make us afraid of ourselves. The process of division never stopped; the homogenous ‘Muslims’ of yesterday are split into Shias and Sunnis as citizens of Pakistan, and many divisions within that. There is a weak state at the centre, unable to agree on a framework for pluralism (or even concern itself with what that means), and unwilling to ensure equal rights and protection for its citizens. A tamasha played out in 1947. A tamasha continues in front of our eyes today.
Watching a film like Earth-1947 causes one to pause, observe the senselessness of it all, and ponder why. These two lines from a part of the soundtrack by AR Rahmam at the end of the film, perhaps put it best:
Teray jahan mein nafrat kyu hay, jang hay kyun?
Lord, why is there hate and war in the world?
Tera dil tau itna bara hay, insaan ka dil tang hay kyun?
Your heart is so vast, then why is man’s so small?