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75 Years Partition

Memories & anti-memories

The main blame for the slaughter usually falls on Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. People have lost sight of the role the British played and how they abandoned the country. Prime Minister Clement Attlee said, ‘It is not the intention to hand over India to chaos.’ But that is exactly what the British did

Memories & anti-memories

Photo for representational purpose only.



Keki Daruwalla

My father, NC Daruwalla, retired as Professor of English from Government College, Lyallpur, in July 1945, and we moved to Junagadh, where he took over as tutor and guardian to the prince. My two elder brothers, Jal and Freddy, remained in Lyallpur, now renamed Faisalabad. (Pakistanis flattered the oil Sheikhs and even Gaddafi had a stadium named after him.) My Punjab memories come from what they told us, meaning Tehemtan, my brother, my parents and me. I was 10 years old in 1947. Both my elder brothers had harrowing times in Lahore and Lyallpur, escaped on trains, showing their sacred threads (kusti) in the Muslim Pakistani section to prove they were not Hindus, and in Indian sections to prove they were not Muslims. My parents sat near our Philips radio, very anxious about happenings, and their two missing sons. When they returned, we heard stories, for instance about the 3-mile-long procession led by the Nihangs in March 1947 in Lyallpur, shouting slogans of “Akhand rahega Hindustan/Nahin banega Pakistan”. (I have a poem “Childhood”, where all this is related in rhyme!)

I propose to write about what I witnessed in Junagadh, which as a ‘native’ state acceded to Pakistan initially. Punjabis think that Partition narratives only belong to Punjab. Punjabi literature has also appropriated Partition, from Khushwant Singh to Amrita Pritam, forgetting there were also Bengal, Assam and Junagadh that could claim a bit of the Partition pie. Junagadh had a Muslim Nawab, Mahabat Khanji Babi (later Parveen Babi came from the same dynasty which had ruled Junagadh for two centuries).

The Nawab was always surrounded by servants. He was generous, and when the Diwan, Abdul Kadir, had a heart attack, he got an elevator put in the house, something unheard of in the Forties. His arrogant son Shafiq and I were class fellows, and once we had a fight in which I had the worst of it. His elder sister Laeq was in the same school. Kadir was edged out and Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, landlord from Larkana, became the Diwan. He was very communal, unlike Kadir, and led the ineffective Nawab by the nose into Pakistan and ruin. And he had a line to Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The main blame for the slaughter usually falls on Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. People have lost sight of the role the British played and how they abandoned the country. When I wrote my novel “Ancestral Affairs”, I went to the Nehru Memorial Library and read newspapers of every single day of 1947 — mostly Times of India and Bombay Chronicle. There were two crucial dates — February 20, when it was announced that Britain would leave India by June 1948. Paramountcy would not end before the final changeover, and Mountbatten would replace Wavell as Governor-General. Prime Minister Clement Attlee said, “It is not the intention to hand over India to chaos.” But that is exactly what the British did.

On July 4 came a bombshell. Two dominion states were to come into existence on August 15, as also the boundary commissions for Bengal and Punjab, with Cyril Radcliffe heading them. (He knew nothing about India, and WH Auden has a good poem on him). Sylhet would have a referendum on August 6 and 7; it voted for Pakistan with 2,39,619 to join Pakistan, and 1,84,041 votes to remain in Assam.

July and August were very tense. The Nawab never stirred out, and the Gujarati newspapers were hell bent on exaggerations that Hurs and Baluchis were being imported into Junagadh and Bahauddin College was seeking affiliation to Sindh University. Samaldas Gandhi, nephew of the Mahatma, formed a unit called the Arzi Hukumat to rule Junagadh. Rich Gujarati traders fled. Cinema halls emptied.

Muslims, who knew what was coming, kept a low profile. Not all. Shakir Muhammad, ADC to the heir apparent, Dilawar Khanji, who later was appointed Governor of Sindh by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, son of Shahnawaz, came visiting. Shakir was a decent cricketer and a hard hitter on the billiards table. He put up a brave front. “We have a cannon left behind by Mahmud Ghazni that can bomb Rajkot. We have a gun which when I fire at Samaldas Gandhi, he will look back and say, ‘There go my intestines.’” No end to bravado.

Princes were living in a fool’s paradise, thinking India would be split into three parts — Hindu, Muslim and Princely India. On September 19, VP Menon, the right hand man of Vallabhbhai Patel, came as plenipotentiary of the Government of India. Piloted by the IG, he landed along with Buch, the Regional Commissioner. He was told HH was very ill. Bhutto never let him see the Nawab and when he wanted to deliver the message from the Indian government to the heir apparent, he was told that Dilawar was too busy playing cricket! Now it was all over, bar the shouting.

The Nawab and family fled to Karachi, after emptying the state’s treasury. The Pakistani angle was to counter-pose Kashmir with Junagadh, Hindu ruler with Muslim majority versus Muslim ruler with Hindu majority. The scheme obviously fell through. Vallabhbhai Patel came to Junagadh and spoke on the Bahauddin College grounds. Father took us there. Though he mixed his metaphors —“Hyderabad is in our stomach, we can swallow it whenever we want” — he spoke brilliantly, cool as a water-pitcher.

Two statements stand out. Nehru as he derided the divine right of kings: “We are trustees of a great future even as we are inheritors of a great past.” Jinnah said on March 28: “It is better to divide India and flourish than to fight for a united India and destroy everything.” 


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