It's been so long since that August in 1947. What a tumultuous time it was. In our little village far away from the epicentre of all the action we were not touched by what was happening in the rest of the country. News did trickle down though, and we did get to hear about the unrest, the riots, Gandhiji's fast and so on.
As early as June, the Viscount Louis Mountbatten, the Viceroy and Governor General, had announced that the British Indian Empire would be partitioned into the nations of India and Pakistan. This announcement sent a chill down our spines. We wondered how we would function with a portion of our country cut off. Of course, most of us were upset. We used to sit up late and discuss what would happen to our country. But, that was before we realised that everything around us was changing. Surprisingly even we ourselves were changing.
Mumtaz was my best friend. We had grown up together, attended the same school, spent all our spare time together. But as the days drew closer to August we found we didn't have much to talk about. And worse than that, we didn't have much time to spend with each other too. I don't know if we were consciously avoiding each other or we were too caught up with the mood of the moment. I never did know. For one day, we woke up to find that Mumtaz and her family and several other Muslims who had lived in our village had disappeared. Presumably they were journeying to their new country. A sad day indeed.
But it was also a time of hope for us. We were finally going to be free. What would this freedom mean for us? How would it affect us? How would we handle this new found freedom? Would our leaders be able to take us forward? Many questions came to mind.
The partition is said to have displaced millions of people. Geographically, the Bengal province was divided into East Pakistan and West Bengal. In the Punjab province also there was division. Partition also meant a division of the state's assets, the British Indian Army, the Indian Civil Service and the other administrative services, the Indian Railways and the central treasury. The princely states chose whether they wanted to accede to Pakistan or to India.
Around the midnight of August 14, Jawaharlal Nehru made a speech to the Indian Constituent Assembly. The speech is now very famous.
He began, “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.” He went on to say that, “Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India.”
A touching, inspiring speech that infused in us a feeling of hope for the future of our country.
However, while the whole country rejoiced and celebrated the freedom, Mahatma Gandhi did not join in. He who had fought hard to win this freedom was in Calcutta trying to bring peace between the Hindus and the Muslims. The partition had caused him great heartache. After all these years, we can now pat ourselves on our back. We have made excellent progress in many fields. We are a power to reckon with in the world market. We have to an extent taken on the responsibility that power brings.
But despite all the growth and progress our country has made, I often wonder what happened to my friend Mumtaz.