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The Memories We Carry

By Ramanjit Singh



After seven decades, there are very few amongst us who experienced the madness of the partition of India. Our parents and grandparents have passed those awful stories to us. The future generations carry those stories, those anecdotes, as if they are family heirlooms, to be cherished, to be protected, to be preserved forever. These memories form the fabric of our sub-conscious, they help us to interpret those black and white photographs, those old videos, those old faces.


What we are left with is an amalgamation of memories that create a sense of consternation. Memories that make us fear our own, memories that remind us of our own depravity. We live with a mind that is in a constant seesaw, teetering between hope and despair. The memories of violence that occurred in Punjab during that fateful year is being forgotten, and are being replaced with new memories of violence and confrontation. Society seems to be in a state of chaos, being pulled apart by uncaring minds, by uncaring youth, by uncaring government. It seems there are now a million fissures that are pulling us further apart. Doesn't matter which side of the border you are at, it seems we have lost our sense of direction. Seems as if partition is happening within our own families, in our own villages, in our own towns and cities. Partition between the haves and the have nots. Partition between those who are able to make something of their lives and those who are left behind.


The year 1947 is the most tumultuous year of our entire sub-continent. We cannot escape it and its memories remind us of our own culpability. Perhaps we, as Punjabis, are paying the price of that catastrophe with today's societal failures. Drug addiction, aimlessness of our youth, the poverty of ideas, poverty of hope are probably all linked to that darkest hour of our history. I cannot provide evidence of that direct linkage but deep down I think that a society that is capable of so much violence can never return back to its normal state. Somewhere, somehow its inherent nature will rear its ugly head. It will turn against its own, it will find enemies amongst its own. And that is what we are seeing today.


I read a story about a Muslim family in Jullundur who had lost all their family members.

"We asked Sughra Rasheed for the names and ages of those who had been killed in August 1947 in Jullundur. She answered:


Dr Badruddin, the father of my husband. He was 60. Fatima, his mother. She was 55. Jamila, their newly married daughter, my husband’s sister. She was 25. Tahira, their younger daughter, who was 22. Qutubuddin, my husband’s nana, who was also my dada. He was 80. Idu, a mulazim. Idu’s wife Fateh. Five children of Idu and Fateh."


I don't know what happens to me when I read stories like these. A part of me dies, a part of me screams, a part of me asks why. Why did we do this? The mob killed all the generations belonging to a single family. The sister who was 25, the daughter who was 22, the mother who was 55, the father who was 60, the grandfather who was 80, house worker and his wife and all his children.


Families like these belonging to Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were murdered across Punjab. Yet we live on as if we don't have to come to terms with these crimes. We are committing new ones so that the older ones are forgotten. This is how we absolve ourselves of our actions. We add layers of memories so that the new ones force us to forget the older ones. This is what we do. We use time to clear our sins. Those souls who died are still waiting for justice.


It's these memories that burden me. That at least I carry forward, like a morbid heirloom of our past deeds. We have not come to terms with our own dastardly actions. We live on as if those events need to be forgotten. But I believe that who we are today is defined by the acts committed by our forefathers. There must be self-reckoning, a need for introspection, to recognize what happened and how that behavior is still affecting us today. I believe things are always linked like a chain of events, each affecting the next. We sit here and feel absolved of our actions, but the year 1947 is hovering over us like an unfinished tragedy, it is still waiting for its one final act. That final act is for us to see and accept what we did to each other, to fellow Punjabis.


The memories we carry forward represents who we are. We know what we did, we know what we have to do. Those lost souls are waiting. Everyone of them is waiting for us to apologize, they are waiting for us to ask for forgiveness. They are waiting for us to become better human beings.


To Waris Shah

by Amrita Pritam

Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nu (1947)


Speak from the depths of the grave to Waris Shah I Say

and add a new page of the saga of love today.

Once wept a daughter of Punjab,

your pen unleashed a million cries

a million daughters weep today,

to you Waris Shah they turn their eyes.

Awake, decry your Punjab,

O sufferer with those suffering!

Corpses entomb the fields today

the Chenab is flowing with blood.

Mingled with poison by some are the waters of five rivers,

and this torrent of pollution,

unceasingly covers our earth.

And heavy with venom were the winds,

that blew through the forests transmuting into a snake,

The reed of each musical branch.


With sting afters sting did the serpents suppress the voice of people.

A moment so brief and the limbs of Punjab turned blue

Threads snapped from their shuttlesand rent the songs at their throats

Silenced was the spinning wheel‟s hum, severed from their gatherings, the women.

Branches heavy with swings,cracked from peepul trees

boats laden with trappings loosened from anchors to sink.

Despoilers of beauty and love, each man now turned

where can we seek for another like Waris Shah today?

Only you can speak from the grave,

to Waris Shah I say

add another page to your epic of love today.


Translated by Amrita Pritam


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