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The Divide

- Ramanjit Singh


With the passage of time, as the year 1947 is becoming a distant memory, so is the geographic and historical awareness of the various Punjabi cities and towns that were once so familiar to the pre-Partition generation. Most of us have lost that proximity, the cultural and social relationships that were once so vibrant between these various cities and towns of western Punjab. And I believe the same is true for the people on the other side who also have lost all the historical links they once had with eastern Punjab.

Centuries of settlement and migration created a degree of rich diversity of people belonging to different religions and backgrounds all living together till the time of Partition. They lived together, they worked and did business together, they were land owners, they were government employees, they were teachers, they were carpenters and shop owners, they were wrestlers and money lenders, they were singers and soldiers. They celebrated each other's festivals. Their homes, their mosques, their gurdwaras, and their temples were interspersed in a complex social mosaic that had evolved and matured over centuries. Their lifestyles were so interwoven that once upon a time Muslim rababis sang Shabad Kirtan at Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. Sikhs and Hindus paid homage to Hazrat Mian Mir's dargah at Lahore. Pak Pattan of Baba Farid was as holy to the Sikhs as it was to the Muslims. Bulleh Shah's dargah in Kasur was both revered by the non-Muslims and Muslims alike.

It is this united Punjabi identity / شناخت / ਪਛਾਣ that was lost in 1947.

And this loss is immeasurable.

In one of my blogs, I mentioned that that after Partition, author and diplomat Sardar Khushwant Singh of Hadali, Sargodha used to go to Delhi's Khan Market to talk to shop owners in chaste Lahori, who like him had also migrated from Lahore. It was his desire to relive his roots, to talk to his people in a language that he grew up with and this post-partition reality triggered a sense of tremendous loss that some never recovered from it, and some carried on with it for the rest of their lives.

The splintering of population removed the necessary prerequisites of secular thinking, sharing of ideas, and religious tolerance that was needed to create a modern state. India was secular to a certain extent but now the state sponsored xenophobia against Muslims and other minorities is taking its ugly roots. Calls for genocide against Muslims and the media inciting this hate speech has become a norm. In Pakistan, any minority religion person can be killed based on false blasphemy allegations or have his daughters kidnapped and forced to convert and there's no protection from the state for their basic human rights. Partition may have created two independent countries but now they are run by a new set of colonialists who may look like us but their politics of greed and hate has destroyed any hope that we will ever come out of poverty, illiteracy or inequality.


And this loss of basic human rights in post-partition India and Pakistan is immeasurable.


Great artists such as Mohammad Rafi of Amritsar, the Kapoors of Samundari and Peshawar, Yusuf Khan urf Dilip Kumar of Peshawar, Anand Bakshi of Rawalpindi, Balraj Sahni of Rawalpindi, Sunil Dutt of Jhelum, Dev Anand of Shakargarh, Rajendra Kumar of Sialkot, Yash Chopra of Lahore, Prem Chopra of Lahore, Om Prakash, Manoj Kumar, Pran and so many others were starting their careers at a time when Lahore was the cultural capital of India. They were singers, actors, poets, and film makers who at the time before Partition made Lahore the epicenter of Indian cinema. After Partition however, this cultural powerhouse of a city lost its modern and cosmopolitan spirit, it lost its creativity, it lost its artists, the very people who were making this city great had left.

And this loss of Punjab's dominance in the film industry is immeasurable.

As another consequence of Partition which hits close to my heart is the loss of Urdu language and the loss of the Sufi culture from eastern Punjab and Delhi. This void of not knowing Urdu or to be able to read the stories of Waris Shah in Urdu is a great loss to the generations born after 1947. Growing up we were never taught about the great poets and Sufi saints of western Punjab. Urdu remained the lingua franca of India till 1947. Hindi was forced down our throats and it's the language that I never felt comfortable with. The fact that the Dargah of Data Ganj Baksh of Lahore is one of the most venerated place in west Punjab was unknown to me until I started reading about the history of Lahore on wikipedia.


And this loss of Urdu language is immeasurable.

Most of the cities in central Punjab coexisted within a 80 to 100 mile radius..

Central Punjab towns and cities

Sheikhupura is north-west of Lahore. From Amritsar it's about 75 Km.

Nankana Sahib is south-west of Lahore. From Jullundur it's about 107 Km.

Gujranwala is north-west of Lahore. From Amritsar it's about 79 Km.

Kasur is north-west of Ferozepur. It's about 20 Km from Ferozepur.

Lyallpur is slightly north-west of Ludhiana. It's about 260 Km from Ludhiana.

Distance between major central Punjab cities. Click on the map to view a larger image

In eastern Punjab, the names of the cities that were once so close to us in western Punjab are no longer mentioned in our conversations. Lahore is barely mentioned, and so is Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Lyallpur or Sheikhupura. The newer generation of Punjabis have lost that sense of belonging to the land on the other side of the divide. When I was growing up, as part of the second generation after Partition, I still remember people talking about these cities. Now it is completely absent from our vocabulary. Rare mentions of these cities due to Sikh pilgrims going to historical gurdwaras still exists but the common folk have lost all cultural linkages with western Punjab. And this is also true for the Punjabis on the other side of the divide.


This loss has also removed the stories, historical knowledge that once was commonly known among the people. I remember the first generation of post-partition Punjab still talked about a great wrestler from such and such place or a famous singer from such and such village in western Punjab. These stories were no longer passed on to the third or fourth generation of Punjabis who are growing up now. Memories of the old Punjab are all but gone from our collective conscience.


And this loss of common memory among Punjabis is immeasurable.


In the end, I would like to say that the divide is not just a separation of land or its people, it also divides our collective conscience. A partition of our memories that are all but forgotten. And we can never bring those memories back. Now all that what matters to us is whether we live a life that is more kind to others, that we treat others in the same way like we treat our own. Whether our common heritage as a Punjabi can unite us or do we let some among us to divide us further. Whether we can come out of our prejudices and see each other as a long lost brother or sister who got separated from us and now we have a chance to come together.


Everything that we do from now on is on us.


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