5 Queen’s Road: A house is partitioned along the lines, and in the chaos, of the new independent nations of India and Pakistan

Sorraya Khan in Guernica:

Reconstructing-19261_jpgLarge_TOP-minIn the beginning, 5 Queen’s Road was my Pakistan. The house didn’t belong to me, and although it was my grandparents’ home, it didn’t belong to them, either. None of which stopped any of us from believing it did. The house was partitioned shortly before British India was, in 1947. The border that cleaved the latter produced the independent nations of India and Pakistan; the border that cleaved the former shifted, growing or shrinking depending on perspective and the passage of time. When I first arrived as a child, the inhabitants had already been mired in war for so long their memories were blurred and no one I knew could accurately recall its trajectory. Only two facts were worth remembering: my family had neither instigated nor perpetuated the conflict.

The house came to my grandparents in the chaos of Partition. It had been built by the British in the early 1940s and eventually sold to Dina Nath, a Hindu, who decided against leaving Lahore for India in the summer of 1947. Instead, Dina Nath drew a line down the middle of the house and searched for a Muslim tenant to live on the other side, hoping that the presence of a Muslim might protect him from the raging violence against Hindus who had dared remain in Pakistan. My grandparents, their seven children, my grandfather’s mother, and several of his brothers moved in. For reasons that are unclear and now impossible to know, my grandfather and Dina Nath grew to dislike each other until eventually the men stopped speaking. By all accounts, Dina Nath’s initial partitioning was generous, but over time the border moved until all that was left of my grandparents’ side was the house I knew. It consisted of two bedrooms and bathrooms, oddly shaped living and dining rooms, a study, and, for some mysterious reason, the entire back lawn, of which a corner was an outside kitchen where my grandmother prepared all our meals.

Sixteen years after Partition, and in the winters that followed (thanks to the “home leave” benefit of my father’s UN job), I came to a house crumbling under the weight of their feud.

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