Mumbai shows Partition was a tragic mistake

December 16, 2008 12:00 am | Updated October 10, 2016 12:32 am IST

Sarfraz Manzoor

‘The enmity meant to lurk inside every Pakistani towards India seems ridiculous.’

I had not been to Mumbai before this year, and, aside from two weeks in Goa a decade ago, had never set foot on Indian soil. That in itself is not surprising; for Pakistanis, India exerts a compelling but complex fascination. It is the enemy in cricket, in two wars and in the long rumbling dispute over the contested territory of Kashmir — and yet it is also the ancestral homeland with a shared language and history. My fascination with India was not because it offered a tantalising taste of the exotic other — the appeal to those westerners who come to find themselves — but because it was so close to Pakistan, the land of my parents, the country where I was born.

Earlier this year I was invited by the Kitab book festival to visit Mumbai. I arrived on a searing February afternoon and took a taxi to my hotel, the Taj, in Colaba on the southern tip of the city. From my window I could see the Gateway to India, the giant stone arch through which the last British troops to leave India passed 60 years ago. Born in Lahore, I was slightly nervous about being in India; I had a faint suspicion that my Pakistani heritage would be instantly identifiable to every passerby. The truth was, of course, that I blended in as well as any other person who did not truly belong; I spoke Urdu to the street vendors and they replied in Hindi, which is practically the same; I ordered saag aloo , which my mother makes for me at home; and everywhere I inhaled the city’s wild, chaotic energy. And as I sat in the back of a speeding rickshaw and soaked up the sight of Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs living in the city, I kept wishing I could take my mother to Bombay.

Like my late father, my mother was born Indian in what 14 years later became Pakistan under the 1947 Partition. I wondered how she would feel about being in India and whether it would feel like home. She left Pakistan in 1974, bringing me and my siblings to join my father, who had come to Britain 11 years earlier. For second-generation British Pakistanis, home is a complicated question. I see my generation as the casualties of a double fracture: ripped out of India and then torn from Pakistan. The enmity that is meant to lurk inside every Pakistani towards India has therefore always seemed ridiculous to me; it is like being asked to hate one’s own past. It seems natural that my best friend of the past 20 years is a British Indian Sikh: what is different is so much less important than what is shared.

Last month (November) I returned to India for a six-week trip. I was back in Mumbai, working on a Radio 4 documentary. My producer and I had a free Saturday morning, and I showed him the Taj. It was Saturday 22 November. As we walked through the metal detectors I remember thinking they were not in position on my previous visit. We sat briefly by the pool before returning to the heat and noise, wandering past the Leopold cafe, where I had eaten stuffed parathas nine months earlier. The next morning I flew to Bangalore and at the airport I picked up a newspaper. The front-page headline was a quote from the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, talking of the links between India and Pakistan. Quoting his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, the president said, “there is a little bit of India in every Pakistani.” The words appeared to usher in a new era of Indo-Pakistani relations, in which the tensions, suspicions and hostility of the past were finally put to rest.

You know what happened next. Within hours, it was reported that Pakistan, or Pakistanis, were implicated in the Mumbai attacks; Mr. Zardari’s remarks already felt overtaken by appalling events. Muslims in Mumbai, fearful that the attacks would incite hatred against them, were quick to show their solidarity with the rest of the country. The city’s largest Muslim graveyard refused to bury the nine slain gunmen who carried out the attacks and last week’s Eid celebrations were appropriately muted, with some of Bollywood’s leading Muslim stars wearing black armbands to express their sadness. Meanwhile, polling across India revealed an unambiguous suspicion that Pakistan was behind the attacks, with more than two thirds of Indians wanting to sever all ties with its troublesome neighbour.

The attacks were inevitably dubbed “India’s 9/11” and there has been talk of a “war on terror” against the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Lahore-based outfit thought to have carried out the killings. But this second war on terror seems as ill-conceived as the first. The danger is that it distracts from the truth of how much the two countries share. I am convinced that the attacks are further evidence that the partitioning of India and Pakistan has proved a tragic mistake. It was prompted for laudable reasons — to protect Muslims from Hindu dominance — but it caused the death of millions in the greatest migration in human history, and 60 years on what has it achieved? Two nations — three including Bangladesh, which gained independence in 1971 — whose leaders have shed blood and spent billions fighting each other while their people have starved and suffered. But in loving India I do not hate Pakistan. I find myself agreeing with the Delhi street vendor who, when I told him I was originally from Pakistan, said with a wave of a hand, “India, Pakistan, it is all one.” Pakistan is like a severed leg, hacked from the body and expected to run on its own.

The Mexican author, Carlos Fuentes, described the border between the U.S. and Mexico as “an enormous bloody wound, a sick body, mute in the face of its ills, on the point of shouting, torn by its loyalties, and beaten, finally, by political callousness, demagoguery and corruption.” The words strike me as sadly all-too appropriate to the India/Pakistan border, another bloody wound that can only begin healing when we acknowledge the personal and political tragedy of Partition.

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