Selected to head the Oral History Project team of the Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP), a non-profit organisation dedicated to cultural and historic preservation of Pakistan in Lahore and Islamabad, Anam Zakaria has made a path-breaking and admirable attempt to understand how the perception of Pakistan and India has evolved over the years.
Culling from the oral narratives of four generations of mainly Pakistanis and some Indians, her book includes seventeen interviews, is divided into four sections: The Border: Azad Qaidies (freed prisoners); Families Partitioned: When Home is Elsewhere; Reclaiming Heritage: A Museum of Memories and Redefining Partition: ‘Bharat se Rishta Kya?’ (what is the relationship with India?). Each section provides readers with the experiences,life journeys and perceptions of different generations of Pakistanis and Indians in order to get an idea of how the meaning of partition and what became the ‘other’, has shifted over the years. The stories are of people who left their homes and friends behind on the ‘other’ side, who remember the violence but also the humanity that prevailed during the bloodshed of 1947, as well as narratives of the children and grandchildren of the partition generation, who have come to understand it through the lens of their elders.
Over three years, the author conducted 600 in-depth interviews across different socio-economic classes, mostly in and around Lahore. She realized that many of the narratives came from memories of horrific torture, rape, looting, kidnappings, death and displacement, quite similar to the ones she had heard from her own maternal grandmother, who had served at Lahore’s largest refugee camp at Walton and also similar to what she had read in history textbooks as a student. What surprised her however, was the emergence of memories of the good times. Both Hindus Muslims celebrated their religious festivals together. Sweets were sent to each others homes at Diwali and Eid and neighbours and both communities lived like one large family.
The bitter memories of partition,
instead of diminishing over the years
have been “repackaged through state
narratives”, resulting in attitudes
hardening over the years with post-
Partition events- wars, religious
extremism, terrorism- leaving “new
imprints on 1947”. While common
sense dictates the need for a change in
narrative, that remains a distant dream.
The author admits that her initial stereotyped perceptions about India changed after she studied with many Indian students for three years in Canada. Her opinions became lesshard line and more forward looking. She feels that the past should be forgotten and they should move forward, but explains that Pakistani students studying in low to upper middle in come schools did not have opportunities to interact with Indians.Like she in her childhood, they too ha donly heard negative stories and sotalking with the Partition generation on one hand and these young students on the other, the disconnect between the two kept striking her. Why was it that so many children born over five decades after Partition, held so much bitterness despite and many of their grandparents and earlier generation had good memories of their Hindu and Sikh friend and also when many had tried desperately to cross the border to see their homes one more time.
This book is recommended not only for all Indians and Pakistanis of all age groups, but also by all India/South Asia watchers, Indologists etc. It would also be worth translating into Hindi, Gurmukhi and Urdu.