Partition's unresolved business

In the middle of this century we turned to each other, With half faces and full eyes...

Yehuda Amichai

MY mother would quote a Farsi couplet about Afghans, Kambohs and Kashmiris whenever I was mischievous and tell me that I was mean like all Kashmiris. My father would sip from his bowl of salty tea and look on. But I do not fit the Kashmiri stereotype. No pink cheeks or blue eyes, the only brother even darker than I am and the family hardly able to make out the difference between Pahari and Kashmiri. I can't always carry the pictures of my relatives who may qualify as Kashmiris. My friends in Karachi, Delhi and Lahore — in awe with the idea of the Vale of Cashmere and enchanted by the beauty of its dwellers — make fun of me. Tarique Rehman Fazlee, who's been to Srinagar once, always asks me derisively, "Sir, why don't you mediate between Pakistan and India? Kashmir is your land after all."

It is and it is not. Let me pick some crumbs of history off the floor. My ancestors left Kashmir long ago and converted to Islam, although that was some decades after the Nehru ancestors left without converting. With their footprints stamped across the length and breadth of northern India, Lucknow was to be their final destination. Perhaps because many Kashmiris had settled there, the Avadhi court promoted a culture of harmony and the subjects were tolerant to each other's whims. They lived in Lucknow and prospered. Most learnt and practised Greek medicine, established a teaching hospital and medical college, built a mosque, patronised art and music, men kept concubines and women threw lavish parties.

The stint was soon to be over. Some glory was lost due to the choice of being rebellious to the British masters and the rest to the decadence that marked the age. In Lucknow, they were called Kashmiris and elsewhere Lucknavis. Gradually, Kashmir was edged away from their courtyards to remain only in the kitchens. Urban Hindustani became the main language of the household and Farsi as the second. Most continued to learn Sanskrit. What is left of those happy times is a state-owned, dilapidated college in India and an exasperating family spread over countries that used to be one.

My mother's relations were dwellers of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and the Punjab. Her aunt and uncle raised her in Muzaffarnagar and Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). Being a Muslim family of teachers, lawyers and public servants under the Raj, they were interested in poetry, cricket and religion. I grew up to see only one grandparent alive. And he, my Amritsar-born maternal grandfather, never mentioned if his family came from Kashmir. May be they had, may be not.

Both my parents lived and worked mostly in Pakistan, somehow managing to stay on the bottom rung of the middle class. Born in Karachi, I was to finish kindergarten when Pakistan was dismembered. I am told that, a couple of years earlier, carrying me as an infant, my parents had visited East Pakistan. The car was attacked by angry Bengali youth who yelled and swore at them on finding out they were West Pakistanis, without guessing that they could be unreservedly against the exploitation of Bengal.

I visited Bangladesh in 1995 for a few weeks to find myself carrying the burden of Urdu, Punjab and the Pakistan Army. At the same time, Karachi went through the most terrible episode in its history. Armed youth were killing each other in thousands and the military and the police were killing them in real and fake encounters. The children of immigrant Muslims from India, those who had a claim to creating the country, challenged the State.

I am also a witness to the despicable arrogance in many who had migrated from India to Pakistan. After reading my Punjabi poem, a so-called Urdu-speaking friend asked me why I needed to establish Punjabi antecedents? And which is next, the crude language that Pathans speak? Or Seraiki may be? I had to tell him that my crooked lineage, unlike his blue blood, allows me to establish many antecedents, Punjabi being one.

The old natives pay them back in the same coin. A taxi driver once told me how Pathans tore the pyjamas of Mohajirs in Karachi and made them wear shalwars. A student leader from a Sindhi nationalist party shouted at me, "bloody Urdu-speaking scum of the earth". A friend from Lahore insisted that I am clumsy because of the Hindustani blood in me.

On the other side of the fence, in Hindustan, R.K. Narayan, the master storyteller, begins his essay "The Problem of the Indian Writer" by stating, "All imaginative writing in India has had its origin in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the 10,000-year-old epics of India." Elaborating his point, he continues, "These traditions were modified by historical changes. Let us skip a great deal of intervening history and come down to British times." The problem is that the intervening history, Narayan chooses to skip produced Amir Khusrau, Shah Latif Bhittai, Bulleh Shah, Abdul Qadir Bedil, Vali Deccani (whose tomb was ransacked in Gujarat recently) and above all, Mirza Ghalib. Even during and after the British times, from Dr. Mohammed Iqbal to Saadat Hasan Manto, Brij Narain Chakbast, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander, Qurratul Ain Haider, Josh Malihabadi, Firaq Gorakhpuri (whose real name was Raghopati Sahai) and Faiz Ahmed Faiz— they were all rooted in that intervening history. This skipping of a "great deal of intervening history," in Narayan's words, on the one hand and the insistence on that history being the only period of magnificence on the other brought about communal partition of British India, riots at regular intervals and seething intolerance. The Gujarat pogroms simply take it one notch further.

I felt terribly annoyed when, in Delhi, two Indian Muslims jumped on my throat literally asking me to withdraw jehadis from Kashmir. As if I were the one who commandeered the army in Kargil. But putting anger in context makes you sympathise with it. In today's India, secular Muslims go through a test of fire to prove their chastity and faithfulness. They made me go through the same agnipariksha. Here you go with a reference to the Ramayana.

In Pakistan, where people either worship the icon of secular India or consider everything Indian as an open or disguised plot for absolute Hindu ascendancy, it is difficult to put an objective view across. For those who believe that India is as great as Nehru's independence speech of 1947, Pakistan is always at fault and Indian Muslims are having a ball. Look at all the film stars, musicians and dress designers. Those Muslims who fuss are insistently backward.

Whereas, the anti-Indian feeling in Pakistan stems from mistrust, conservatism, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the state of minority rights in India — be it Muslims, Sikhs or Christians — and, more recently, India's military overtures towards Israel. People know that many Abdul Kalams have been made presidents. The Ottoman Turks used Armenian generals to massacre Armenians, Stalin was a Georgian who consolidated the Russian empire in the name of Soviet Union, Marshal Tito, himself a Croat, didn't do enough to check Serbian superiority in former Yugoslavia.

After Partition, Jinnah had said he intended to retire to Bombay. Gandhi expressed a wish to settle in Pakistan to bring the countries closer. One can't be sure if the two-nation theory and the ideology of Pakistan are the same or two different things, the latter not being the only logical conclusion of the former, but the premise for partition was to establish long lasting peace in the subcontinent.

Pakistan continues to define itself as non-India and India continues to browbeat all its neighbours. So many of us know the path to progress is defined by peace, fostering the inalienable bond between the countries in question and mutual respect.

How? The issue is beyond the range of international relations and defence analysts. The subject of international relations is to history what plumbing is to mechanical engineering. Where a billion people continue to live under abject poverty and a constant threat of extinction by nuclear and conventional war, the onus for taking the process of truth and reconciliation forward falls more on writers and historians.

One of them was Prem Nath Bajaj. My father quotes from him and insists that the sentiment of grief in Kashmir is centuries old. Fear and violence are the warp and weft of life in Kashmir. The tears of mothers who lost their sons and daughters are thicker than blood. Friends from all over keep sending me e-mails about India being malicious. At the same time the fathomless sorrows of Sindh province, thousands of young men killed in Karachi during the 1990s, hundreds of thousands in Bangladesh during 1971, sectarian divide, plight of poor women, minorities and the working class across Pakistan, continue to haunt me.

So, dear Tarique Rehman Fazlee, every town in the subcontinent is to me what Toba Tek Singh was to Bishen Singh. I cannot mediate between India and Pakistan. I am an unresolved business of partition myself. You are right. I am not Kashmiri. I am Kashmir.

The author has published six books, five collections of poetry and a volume of essays. He lives in Islamabad and heads a national community development organisation.

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