THE EVENT WHICH CHANGED MY LIFE AND THE LIVES OF MILLIONS
British India 1946. I was living outside a small town in the Punjab called Batala with my father, mother and older brother. The talk was of independence and partition.
Running past our house was the main road from Amritsa to Jullundur, and though I was only five years old, I remember the processions which surged past. Almost everyday voices chanted hoarsely – “Pakistan zindabad!” “Long Live Pakistan!” The Muslims of India were clamouring for their own Muslim homeland, separate from a predominantly Hindu India. But though Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of non violence had famously succeeded in persuading the British to leave India, what he couldn’t do, despite much fasting and pleading, was to prevent the partition of India and the spiral down into the most unimaginable savagery.
The road outside had become a river flowing in two directions: one carrying Muslims fleeing to Pakistan, the other, Hindus fleeing from the new Muslim homeland into India. Everywhere were terrible stories of massacres.
My English mother was now in deep fear for our safety. She wanted to take us to England. My father agreed – though he insisted he must stay on in Batala and help to organise the refugee camps being set up near by.
On 16 August 1947 British rule ended and India became independent. On 15 August 1947, a new country, Pakistan, meaning “Land of Peace” was created, though sixty years on the two countries still struggle to live in peace.
The family separation, the loss of home and the sense of rootlessness which we experienced, was only a microcosm of what the whole sub continent experienced. Our family was never to be the same again. No one would ever be the same again.