IN her lonely moments, due to daddy’s non-family Army postings and separation from her folks during the Partition, my mother longed for her parental home and hearth. Indeed, ‘her tears of her had no weight but carried heavy feelings’, awakening an intense desire in me, a post-Independence child, to be apart of her yesteryear of her.
Like a 1920s’ reel, she reminisced of her Rawalpindi days, ‘I was probably the first woman in our biradari not to observe jhund (veil). Electricity came when I was a kid. Tomatoes were a foreign vegetable then called chaigan. When Bhapaji (my paternal grandfather) went to France in World War 1…’
Hailing from Rawalpindi, my parents and family elders, even after living for over seven decades in India, are still haunted by memories and timeless treasures of those pre-Partition days. Khalid Hishma feels, ‘Most painful tears are not the ones that fall from your eyes and cover your face. They’re the ones that fall from your heart and cover your soul.’
For their children, now grandparents, some even great grandparents, they remain the last living link with their ‘ancestral land’ lost in the political divide.
With wistful smiles, their hearts take fading nostalgia’s wings, revisiting Rawalpindi’s Raja Bazar, Circular Road, Gordon College, Kallar Syedan, etc. I have never visited these places but I vividly imagine them, seeing them through their eyes, and yes, emotions too!
What is it that binds one to the fragrance of one’s native land? Even famed author Khushwant Singh, hailing from Hadali, wished his ashes from him be buried there. A plaque there reads: ‘In memory of Sardar Khushwant Singh (1915-2014). A Sikh, a scholar and a son of Hadali (Punjab). This is where my roots are. I have nourished them with tears of nostalgia.’
While the elders traced their roots to another land, my roots are so deeply embedded in Indian soil, the country of my birth, my motherland, eclipsed by their memories. Born to an Army officer, we traveled frequently, on his postings to India’s far-flung places, becoming a part of its myriad peoples and places.
But their past haunts me. Oft I have ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ to Rawalpindi, wondering if my ancestral home still exists. I cross the threshold of Bhapaji’s haveli… enter the huge central courtyard… find, once a happy home, lying plundered… abandoned… in ruins. I hear the tapping of Bhapaji’s stick and tonga’s (horsecart) hoofs in which mother rode to DAV College, studying under Dr Gopal Singh and principal Jaswant Rai.
No, it isn’t a ghost story. It could be a reality… if time’s tide had been different. After 75 years, let’s not carry the Partition’s burden, letting it fade into history’s pages. We must let go of the past. Let it not cloud our future.