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SOCIETY & CULTURE
societies - Wisdom and Challenges
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Page 1 of 3
Back to home village of Khurd - after 50 years
In August 1947 I was the only one of my family on the Indian side of the newly demarcated border. The rest, including my mother, sister, brother and uncle were all in our ancestral village of Khurd in Punjab, which at the time of the partition, went to Pakistan. (My father had passed away when I was five and my younger brother was a baby of six months at the time. We were brought up by my father’s older brother, Tayaji as we used to call him. ) An army truck was sent to our village to evacuate the Hindus to a refugee camp in Jhelum, the closest town to Khurd. All members of my family, apart from my uncle, were on this truck. As the truck prepared to leave, my uncle asked my mother, (through my sister! – because the custom of the day prevented any direct communication between the women and the male elders of the household) whether she had brought her gold ornaments with her. My mother said she did not have the time to bring them as they all left in a hurry but she explained where they were kept. The truck left.
My uncle was the only Hindu left in the village – he was a landlord, a zamindar, who had many Muslim friends and his lands were tilled by families, several of whom were Muslims – so he felt relatively secure being in the village of ancestors and friends. That evening, as was his usual practice, he went to the village well, where men-folk would gather with their ‘hookahs’ and exchange stories of the day. All was well. The following Friday, after the prayers at the mosque, the Maulvi (priest), in his sermon, raised the issue of why my uncle was still there and that he should be ‘eliminated’. My uncle’s neighbour went over to the house and advised my uncle to leave as soon as possible as his life was now in danger. My uncle insisted that people in the village were his friends – why would they want to kill him? So, that evening again, he went to the well, sat there and talked, pretending he knew nothing of Maulvi sahib’s pronouncements. He came home, took my mother’s ornaments and in the middle of the night walked across the fields to another village called Nawan Lok. Here, he went to the house of a gentleman named Yaqub, who had been my father’s friend and classmate. He told Yaqub that his life was in danger and handed over my mother’s ornaments to him saying that if possible he should have them sent over to her in Jhelum or keep it with him safely. Yaqub heard what my uncle had to say and then answered," If somebody wants to kill you, he will have to kill me and my brothers before he can even lay a finger on you".
Meanwhile, back in the village, people found out that my uncle had escaped and also realised that Yaqub’s was the only house he could have gone to. They followed him there and insisted that Yaqub hand over my uncle to them. Yaqub and his brothers took out their guns and challenged the villagers saying that my uncle was a guest in their house and that the villagers would first have to kill them all before they could get to my uncle. The villagers abused Yaqub, called him a traitor and threatened him of dire consequences for sheltering a Hindu – but eventually went away.
Close to our village, lived a Pir (a holy man) in a place called Sanghoi, who decided to confront Yaqub on the issue of sheltering my uncle. When Yaqub learnt of the Pir’s imminent visit, he gave my uncle a horse and asked him to leave immediately and that he would catch up with him later on. My uncle rode in the middle of the night to Jhelum – to the refugee camp – and Yaqub followed two days later to see whether or not my uncle had reached safely with the ornaments.
Fifty years after this incident I went to my village Khurd. I was in Pakistan, at the invitation of Nawaz Sharif, when Dilip Kumar was being honoured with an award. I was very touched by the respect and honour accorded to me by Nawaz Sharif. It was on this visit in 1998 that I expressed my desire to visit my ancestral village and Nawaz Sharif made all the necessary arrangements for me to do so. I went to Khurd after 50 years – and in these 50 years there had been no communication or interaction with anybody from Khurd. When I reached there, the entire village was at the roadside to welcome me – as they would a long lost son. They, especially the older women of the village, addressed me as ‘Ballya’ – the name of my childhood- and asked me "How is Mangla (my mother), "how is Rani (my sister), "where is Som (my brother) –– here were people I had not met in 50 years or heard from, yet they remembered everybody’s names. When I told them my mother had passed away, they wept and cried. That moment, I realised emotions are similar – it is how we use them that differentiates us. They showed me the lands that had belonged to our family (I am using the past tense – they did not). In fact what they said was "This is your land", "this is your well", "this is your uncle’s house", "this is your house".
From Khurd I went to Nawan Lok. Yaqub had passed away – his children were abroad – but I left a message of thanks for the family.
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