Extracts from travel writer Salman Rashid’s interview with Christopher Lydon of Radio OpenSource.org about history, folklore, and India Pakistan relations
Salman Rashid: Sindh... the land that takes its land from the river. Indus is Sindh in Sanskrit, or Sindhu, which means the great river or even the sea... You could travel east into the desert of Thar to see these wonderful, wonderful places, like a town that comes straight out of Lombardy, with pitched roofs, red tiles as if there was a lot of rain, and there used to be rain at some point in the past, that is what they tell us. This is Nagarparkar, smack on the edge of Pakistan, which was not once on the edge of Pakistan, it was on the trade route between Shikarpur in upper Sindh, and port cities of Gujarat in India. But after the Partition of India, Nagarparkar became an on-the-edge village for Pakistan. The desert abounds with stories of legends and treasures... There are places that even many Pakistanis don’t know about, like the Fort of Ranikot, with walls like the Great Wall of China...
There are three distinct peoples in Balochistan: Northern Balochistan is entirely Pashtun; the Baloch themselves; and then there is this other people who call themselves Brahvi who speak a very ancient archaic form of Dravidian language that they say is akin to Tamil of South India. They live in the Kirthar mountains. I have availed of the hospitality of the Brahvis and the Baloch alike... They are great people.
Chris Lydon: How will we know we’ve reached the Punjab?
Salman Rashid: You’ll hear very loud people. That’s the first sign. Loud noises, loud laughter... You’ll see farmers everywhere, you’ll fruit trees, mango, guava, oranges, and you’ll see farmland with rice crops, wheat, maize...
Chris Lydon: I had to come to Pakistan to feel the pain of the Partition of the Punjab. It’s everywhere. It seems to lie behind so much of the consciousness of so much even here in Lahore, specifically here in Lahore. Can we see the Partition line in Punjab and can we talk about it?
Salman Rashid: I’m 59 years old. My generation is the last that will actually — although I never experienced Partition, my family did - but my generation is the last that actually had the first-hand experience of Partition. The pain is still there... When I went to Jallundar where my family came from in Indian Punjab, in 2008, I went to my grandfather’s home in downtown Jallundar. I had a picture, this was like a film scene actually, with me carrying this picture and asking where such a building was. They said I should get to Bhagat Singh crossing, so there I was, I got off this cycle rickshaw and walked down to my grandfather’s home. There’s a hardware dealer on the ground floor now, so I went. He was a Sikh, a very young Sikh. We started talking, and I said, you know, this was my grandfather’s home before Partition, so he completely warmed up to me suddenly. He came around the counter, embraced me and ordered tea and cold drinks for me, and we sat down. After a little while, he got back to his work, I was sitting there with my hand on the counter. Suddenly he puts his hand on mine and he says, listen, was your grandfather a doctor? I said, how do you know? I hadn’t told him that. He said I know the whole story, I’ve heard how they were killed. He took me to several old people, he could not recollect who it was who told him this story. On my last day, I went to my grandfather’s village. I was in Jallundar for four days, every morning I would be the first one at his store. And he said, I just can’t bring back to mind who told me the story. Meanwhile we had met five or six elderly people, who said no, no, we don’t know this story. And I began to suspect that Iqbal Singh thought that if I were to meet the man who knew who had killed my grandfather, and my grandmother, and my aunts, and my great-grandfather, and certain other people, I would probably go crazy or something, you know the kind of reputation Muslims have now (laughs). And I had to tell Iqbal Singh, look you don’t have to worry about me. And he says, no, I know you by now, it’s not that, but I just can’t recollect.
I was in the village when I got a phone call from him, he says, I’ve found the man and he wants to speak with you. So there I was standing with this 74-year old man, who took me by the hand, and he says, come here I’ll show you how it happened. And then he took me to this house, showed me the room where it had happened. This was all going so fast for me, I did not register when the man said — he would say, he was a stupid man, he shouldn’t have done it because he repented after that! I didn’t register that he was speaking about his father. So I had to stop him at one point and say, look, you’re only 74, you would have been 13 at the time of Partition, how do you know all this?
He sort of angrily turned on me and said, “You’re not listening to me! It was my stupid father who did this, not me, I was a child!” Then he told me exactly how it happened. My grandfather was shot through the eye with a shotgun. And the others were all then cut down with swords. My two aunts, young, one was only 17, the other was 25 or 26, my great-grandfather, my grandmother. I wanted to know if someone had been taken out. You know there are stories of young women having been taking away and not killed, but converted, to live as Hindus or Sikhs. And I wouldn’t mind if I were today to find out that I have cousins there. And he said, no, no living body was brought out of this home after they were finished. And then he told me that... I said, this is so graphic, how would you know it all as if you had actually seen it?
He told me, “My father was very sorry after the event.” And until he died in the early 1970s, Mahinder Pratap said that his father always spoke about the event, wept, and said it was a great sin he had committed, killing such good people.
You know, it was, I’ve realised we have a common inheritance. I had inherited grief. Mahinder Pratap had inherited guilt. My grief didn’t go away after that. And every time I go back to India, I go and see Mahinder Pratap... and I hope he lives long, because he’s my only contact with the past I never knew. I don’t know if somehow he could get his guilt out of him, I feel he didn’t, he still speaks about it, he’s still angry about his father having done this.
Chris Lydon: You know, afterwards, whether it’s Rwanda or Nazi Germany or for that matter American slavery, people always dig and wonder and explore, why did it happen, who made it happen? What was it, in terms of leadership, or the culture or the moment, that accounts for it. Do we know, on either side of this Partition, what drove neighbours to kill their good friends, people they admired, maybe loved?
Salman Rashid: I have no answer for this. I really don’t know how it happened. For example, Mahinder Pratap’s father lived only less than fifteen metres from my father’s, my grandfather’s home. My grandfather being a doctor would have treated him, or his family a number of times. And everybody said that my grandfather was a good doctor. So... I don’t know how this happen. It was made to happen. You know, I now begin to suspect that if this great transfer of populations had not taken place, if this mayhem, this killing had not taken place, and if simply a border had been drawn — and as my grandfather used to say, so Pakistan is coming into being, what does that mean about us having to leave home? This has been home to us always, we’re going stay here, people are going to carry on living in that side, and people will be free to come and go. But somewhere, someone, I don’t know if it was Nehru or Jinnah or the Brits, they did not want that to happen. Because if the populations had stayed where they were, the line, the dividing line would have disappeared gradually, because people would have been coming and going, there would have been no border and the whole thing would have become meaningless very soon. So they wanted to give it meaning. So someone plotted to begin this great movement of human beings. The killing began after the Muslims ran riot first in Bombay, then in Calcutta. That was the beginning. The Muslims began by killing people in 1946. We don’t want to acknowledge it but that’s the truth.
When Mahinder Pratap finished his story, I asked him why, why did it have to happen like this? He looked down for a few seconds and he said, you know, it was a time of great madness. That’s the title of the book I’m writing about my family. It was a time of great madness.
Chris Lydon: How do people imagine getting rid of this? Imagine Bishop Tutu doing a five-year truth and reconciliation project on the border, or something. Getting all the stories out. Dealing with all the guilt and as you say, the grief?
Salman Rashid: I think the time to forgive has come. The people are ready... I have been back to India several times and, being a Punjabi, I have only once been to Delhi. I just cannot pull myself away from the Punjabi cities — Ludhiana, Jallander, my grandfather’s village, Amritsar. I don’t want to go anywhere else. But I have never met with hatred or animosity or any belligerence anywhere and I cannot imagine that ordinary people feel any hatred for each other. When I go to India I go to my grandfather’s village; the only connection between Sardar Saudagar Singh, who is my host there, is that he is a refugee from Shahkot in Pakistan, and I am a refugee from the village he now lives in, and we are from the same caste.
So we might be distantly related, but he has always been very kind and generous, his entire family has been kind and generous. People are now ready for reconciliation; people don’t want this border to be the way it is. Let the border remain with a check-post but why can’t we be like Europe, why can’t we travel freely? There would be very little for Bishop Tutu to do here.
‘Both countries treat them like prisoners of war’
Mohammad Ali Shah of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum talks to Christopher Lydon of Radio OpenSource.org about how India Pakistan relations affect his community
Chris Lydon: On top of everything else, you have a border problem with India — or the government has a border problem with India. How does that affect you?
Mohammad Ali Shah: Since 1980, both governments have captured fishermen and put them in jail.
Chris Lydon: [If] I’m a fisherman from India, I get blown into Pakistani waters, what happens to me?
Mohammad Ali Shah: You should be arrested (laughs).
Chris Lydon: Let’s ask it the other way — I’m a Pakistani fisherman and I get blown into Indian waters. What happens to me?
Mohammad Ali Shah: They arrest you. They arrest the Pakistani fishermen and keep them in the jail for many years — 14 Pakistani fishermen have been in Indian jail for 15 years. They haven’t yet been released. And both countries treat them like prisoners of war...
Hear complete interviews at:
Labels: About, Podcast, Travel
posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:20 PM,
At March 29, 2013 at 8:59 PM,
Saima Ashraf said...
At June 6, 2013 at 9:22 AM,
Hammad Mian said...
Good will ambassador of Another Pakistan.
At June 6, 2013 at 12:06 PM,
Salman Rashid said...
At November 11, 2013 at 1:44 PM,
At November 8, 2014 at 12:37 AM,
Beautiful narration. You went with an open heart but it must have been difficult, I can imagine.
Interesting fact about the Brahvi who speak a language similar to Tamil. I wonder how that came to be.
At November 8, 2014 at 9:35 AM,
Salman Rashid said...
Thank you, followyourshadow. There is an audio of this if you google "Travelogue with tears".