The creation of India and Pakistan in 1947 led to horrific sectarian violence and made millions refugees overnight. Seventy years on, five survivors remember

From The Guardian:

2978Moni Mohsin

In the early 90s, I went from Lahore to Delhi to attend a wedding in the family of some Hindu friends. At one of its many events, I bumped into a friend from Lahore who was also visiting the city. We were chatting in Punjabi when we noticed a well-dressed, middle-aged man lurking nearby, apparently eavesdropping on our conversation. Noticing our discomfiture, he apologised.

“When you mentioned Lahore, I couldn’t tear myself away,” he said. “You see, we are Hindus, but my family was Lahori. We had a house in Model Town and I attended Aitchison college. We left at partition. I have never gone back. When my wife passed away, 17 years ago, I thought that even though I had no children or siblings I would get by. But now I feel the creeping loneliness of old age and what I think of most is the happiness of my childhood. I have a yearning to return to Lahore. I want to see it once before I die.”

Everywhere I went in Delhi I heard similar stories, but that is not surprising. At partition, Delhi received a huge influx of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Punjab. Some moved on to other parts of India, but most stayed and put down roots. In the 90s, many of those elderly migrants were alive; whenever I bumped into them and they heard I was from Lahore, they crowded round, asking me to speak in “real Lahori Punjabi”. Others asked after childhood haunts they hadn’t seen for almost 50 years – Anarkali Bazaar, Shalimar Gardens, Mayo School of Arts, Model Town. “Our home was on Queen’s Road. It had a semicircular driveway and black, wrought-iron balconies. Is it still there?” “Do the fireflies still dance on the canal on summer nights?” “Do you ever go to Faletti’s hotel? And its famous cabarets?” When I told the late writer and historian Khushwant Singh– a Delhi wallah who was once a Lahori – of my encounters in Delhi, he smiled and said: “You should see them at the cinema. Whenever Lahore gets mentioned, they all burst into tears together.”

Seventy years ago, on 14 August 1947, as 200 years of British rule came to an end, India was divided into two independent states, Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. It was one of the most painful births in modern history.

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