Rising from the Partition's ashes : The Tribune India

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Rising from the Partition's ashes

Rising from the Partition's ashes

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo

Usha Bande

NIRVASIT — when I first heard my grandmother (nani) use this word for door-to-door hawkers, I was mystified. What an exotic name, I thought with guileless admiration, not aware of the agony associated with it. I mouthed it several times till it acquired the power to narrate some riveting tale. Nani was pacifying my younger sister, who wanted beads to play with. ‘Let the Nirvasit come,’ I heard her say.

Those were the early 1950s. Our father had sent us to our grandparents’ small tehsil town near Nagpur before he proceeded to join his cantonment in the north. The Partition had left its scars on the consciousness of the nation, but our carefree childhood world was blissfully unaware of the pain of Punjab and Bengal.

‘Who is Nirvasit, nani?’ I asked. Her reply was evasive. I went to nanaji with some hope. His reply was beyond my comprehension: ‘It’s all politics, child. Who bothers about the distress of the common man?’ Unable to decipher anything from these enigmatic utterances, I found it easier to run out to join my playmates.

We heard the tingling bell as a rehri stopped at the chowk, displaying alluring items such as creams, bangles, liquid bindi and much more. But I was not interested in the knick-knacks. Fed on Chandamama stories, my imagination was running amok and my eyes were scrutinising the Nirvasit and his wife. To my dismay, however, they looked like the rest of us, except that they were taller and far fairer than the locals. Besides, they wore something like pyjamas and shirts and not the dhoti or the nine-yard sari. It was baffling for the child in me.

Decades rolled by. In the intervening years, I did research on Partition literature, the exodus and the holocaust and was often invited to give lectures. Luckily, a seminar invite from a college in my grandparents’ town opened the floodgates of memories. The Nirvasit figured in my subconscious once again and I enquired about the Nirvasit camp.

‘Nirvasit camp?’ The young lecturers seemed clueless.

‘I will show you a miracle, madam,’ an elderly professor volunteered and drove me to a well-planned, classy colony with sprawling bungalows of such opulence that I stood transfixed. The shabby shanties from where the Nirvasits of my childhood days slogged to earn a square meal were replaced by luxurious houses unveiling a fascinating narrative of resilience, hard work and entrepreneurship.

The scene left me brooding. They came as refugees — uprooted, homeless, struggling to re-root themselves in a different clime; exposed to a language they hardly understood; a food they scarcely relished. But they survived, carved out an identity and became respectable citizens of the town they now called their own.

‘This is Punjabi Colony,’ I heard a voice say, but I was too overwhelmed to respond. I opened the car door, looked back and quietly saluted the dynamism and buoyancy of their spirit.

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