One often hears that Delhi has kept its gates open for all. It never fails to intrigue, as one delves a little deeper into its history one discovers this city, like many others in the world, has stood witness to alarming changes.
One such turn was the arrival and settlement of a major population of refugees from Pakistan after the Partition. Many camps were set up by the authorities to rehabilitate the thousands of expatriates who arrived here to begin a new life. Little does one know today that areas like Old Rajinder Nagar, Patel Nagar, Karol Bagh, Lajpat Nagar, Kingsway Camp and Nizamuddin East are some of the most prominent areas inhabited by many refugees.
One hardly came to terms with life as 78-year-old Shanti Devi recalls leaving her birthplace, Maisoma Bazaar in Srinagar in the middle of one night for a journey to Delhi. She proudly recalls, “My father unearthed all the gold and our grandmother with the children (including Shanti and six siblings) flew down to Delhi, while my parents came separately. On our arrival we re-united at Kingsway Camp where we got shelter and food after which we got a pukka home and a buffalo in Ritz Lane.” Thereafter, the construction of the temples and a gurdwara marked the beginning of life afresh.
Aisha Kausar, who lives in Qasimjaan gali, Ballimaran, remembers how her mother stayed back and never left the haveli, while the others fled to catch the trains. “Many of our people returned quietly to these homes as the trains had no space for them and, with the grace of God, lived on without any problem.”
Ishwar Chand witnessed the brutal train journey from Punja Sab to India and stayed briefly in tents arranged by the king of Patiala before arriving at Delhi's Hudson Lane.
“I remember hearing Pandit Nehru's speech occasionally. We got rations from the State, sometimes people distributed quilts, clothes and money,” says Chand. He further shifted from Ritz Lane, near what is now Khalsa College, to Haqeeqat Nagar for their allotted home. Does he long for old friends? He wistfully says, “We feel like seeing them once, but I wonder if they survived.”
One doesn't realise until one steps out to see that these moving tales of the past are generously spread across this city. Satyawati Ahuja sits back in her house in Khan Market and recollects how she and her family — except her husband, who returned later — came down from Peshawar. She recalls living in the Hindu Sabha camp and later in Edward mess before shifting to these houses built on a Muslim graveyard in 1952. “We fought the daily battles of gathering of food and clothing but I will never forget my life in Pakistan.”
The stories of survival for long remained a fresh topic for introductions and discussions in these neighbourhoods; until struggles of a new life took over. Even then, the memories of the aged often bring the history of a past engraved deep in their hearts.