Across the Bridge – Chapter 22
Continued from “Woman in Burqa”
Bhuvan was growing up in a strict Muslim and a staunch Hindu, Brahman, households. Most of the week, he witnessed Nusarat praying five times a day following one kind of moves. Parasu, who never prayed this way, that way or any other way, visited him couple of days a week. Once a week, Bhuvan would spend a day or two with his grandparents. Grandpa prayed once every day in the morning, others in the family never prayed. Big Mouth and Champa took him to the temples and religious fairs on the occasions of some festivals and Hookah Walla Uncle took the baby wherever his fancy would take him, if not anywhere else, then to the fields. He had a set of mothers: Nusarat, Big Mouth and Champa; had a set of fathers: Parasu, Amir, Grandpa and Hookah Walla Uncle, no two alike and yet in a coherent existence glued by Bhuvan. Patwarun was nowhere in picture except that Parasu visited her once in a while. During the first few months of her separation from her baby, her breasts would puff up to the extent that milk would start dripping from them and she had to squeeze it out into the dirt. Rather ironical: Her baby was getting sick for lack of mother’s milk and she was producing so much milk with no taker. Parasu would try to persuade her to come ‘home;’ her answer was always the same, “I’ll come home, when I have a home.” She would ask about Bhuvan and Parasu would tell her but that is about all. Her grandparents would send something for Bhuvan with Parasu.
By the time Bhuvan reached his second birthday, the war was ending, Quit India movement had sputtered out and Jinnah had gained prominence as the leader of the separatist Muslims. The British had given him free hand in spreading his message. While the Congress leaders were languishing in jails, Jinnah was treated as a regular politician. ‘Divide and Rule’ policy was working well: Hindu-Muslim divide was taking deeper roots. It was not just the Hindu-Muslim divide, it was also the Muslim-Muslim divide, as there were about as many Muslims against partition as were for it. Hindus and others were mostly against partition but there were some who wanted to get rid of the Muslims once for all even at the cost of partition. The Mullah would talk to the Muslim landlord every now and then to help him or at least allow him to persuade Amir and Nusarat to have Bhuvan circumcised, “He is growing in a Muslim household, being raised on Muslim milk, he should be raised as a Muslim.”
“He was born in a Hindu household; he should be raised as a Hindu. Besides, you consider Amir and Nusarat qafirs anyway.”
The Mullah and his type couldn’t wait to get out of Hindustan to Pakistan yet to be and the landlord and his type wouldn’t budge from Hindustan, be there a Pakistan or no Pakistan.
After his second birthday, Parasu started weaning Bhuvan away from Nusarat. He didn’t need a woman’s milk for quite some time and it was getting risky for the child to be there due to the Hindu-Muslim sentiments flaring up. Slowly Bhuvan started spending more time in Kesari Nagar. Parasu would take him to Amir and Nusarat every now and then but Bhuvan started feeling somewhat uneasy if not outright suspicious as the fear of the Muslims had made its way into his tiny heart as there was plenty to instill it into him. Surprisingly, grownups act surprised at such perceptions of children even before they can speak in spite of having witnessed it so many times, their own memories had faded away way back.
As Lord Mountbatten embarked on the soil of India, when Bhuvan was about three years old, he declared that he would be the last Viceroy of India, just to preside over her independence. However, transferring India to Indians did not turn out to be that easy. Congress leaders insisted on the united India and the Muslim League lead by Jinnah insisted on a divided India unless of course the Muslims ruled over it. In the common populace, some Muslims argued that the British took India from the Muslim rulers; therefore, they should return it to the Muslims. Some Hindus countered that Muslims had taken it from the Hindu rulers in the first place, so fine; the British can transfer it to the Muslims to be transferred to the Hindus moments later and the Muslims could disappear into oblivion, “Where they came from in the first place,” forgetting that most of them and their ancestors came from nowhere and their ancestors were Hindus. Mahatma Gandhi offered Jinnah to take the position of Prime Minister and appoint a Muslim to every prominent position. That was a political no go, as about half of the Muslims would not support it for being unjust as well as unworkable and most of the others, would oppose it for these reasons and as they would consider it a betrayal of an immense magnitude that would lead to a civil war. All efforts to persuade Jinnah to drop his demand for Pakistan failed and the Congress and other leaders were not accepting the division although some had started to see its inevitability. Sentiments were flaring on both sides and the civil war situations were developing rapidly. Hindu-Muslim riots had broken out in the East. The British had succeeded much too well in implementing their policy of Divide and Rule, so much so that now they feared for their own safety by being caught in the cross fire. Only thing left for them to do was to Divide and Quit, after evacuating all the British of course.
These were exciting times, volatile times, emotionally charged times. To see how charged, all one had to do was to be a part of the jamboree on the Bridge on the canal in Kesari Nagar; that was the microcosm of the whole of India, the whole of the Empire, even of the World at times.
“It is these firangis; they are not going to leave without destroying our beloved mother land, Mother India.”
“Kill the bastards; no, slaughter them brutally; screw the ways of Mahatma Gandhi.”
“If you don’t listen to Bapu ji, there will be bloodbath.”
“There is blood bath already and it is because we listened to Gandhi; don’t you know what is happening in Noakhali!”
“Eye for an eye; no, two eyes for one.”
“That is the firangi way, not Indian.”
“Firangis couldn’t do anything if it was not for Jinnah.”
“Firangis would have found some other Jinnah or create one.”
“Someone should reason with Jinnah.”
“How can you reason with a man like him? Don’t you know his position that he would rather have a moth hole for Pakistan than no Pakistan at all.”
“Let him have his moth hole then.”
“Not in my house, not in my wall, not in my backyard.”
“Listen to Bapu ji, if we let Muslims feel secure in India, they wouldn’t want a moth hole.”
“Who is threatening them? They want it all and more. That is not fair.”
“All Mahatma Gandhi is doing is saving the firangis and Muslims and getting Hindus killed. Muslim leaders entice and Muslims start riots. When Hindus retaliate, Gandhi goes on fast. Don’t you know what Zorovardi did and its aftermath?”
“Gandhi is an enemy of the Hindus.”
“He is a Hindu himself. He is enemy of no one, the culprits are Churchill and Jinnah.”
“Oh yes, if I could lay my hands on the neck of that bastard.”
“Which one? Churchill or Jinnah?”
“Both, doesn’t matter which one came first as long as the other one is close behind.”
“Churchill first; the bastard called Bapu ji ‘Half-naked faqir.’”
“Bapu ji wouldn’t share your sentiments brother.”
“I know, but I am no Mahatma and I am glad that I am not. The firangi bastard is making sure that if India is to be free, it is drenched in blood and he is predicting it, predicting that if you take British out of India, there will be anarchy, that we would slaughter each other, he is doing it all to justify the British rule, deny us our independence and making sure that there is bloodbath either way.”
“And he calls Indians to be the most beastly people next to Germans!”
“We should oblige him by giving him some reason.”
“We may have done so had it not been for Gandhi ji.”
“Mahatma Ji has replaced the primitive, barbaric ways of humans by civilized ways in a conflict situation. He lives at a higher plane than ordinary humans, he wants people to march towards humanity.”
“All people are doing is marching towards tearing the motherland apart while Gandhi keeps chanting peace and amity.”
“Maulana Azad is the only one who understands this trickery of the firangis. Nehru, Patel and even Gandhi ji have started to accept inevitability of partition!”
“Bapu ji will never accept partition.”
“He is letting it happen, he is accepting it by default. Inaction is as much at fault as is an improper action.”
“Listen everyone; you know nothing,” theorized Nakul Uncle, “It is Lady Edwina Mountbatten; she spent one night with Nehru, both were sleeping together for long time anyway, that night she persuaded Nehru to accept partition.”
“It is a concoction of the political parties opposed to Congress, to defame Nehru ji.”
“It is true,” stated Nakul Uncle with an aura of finality.
“Nehru ji is a man of peace and character like Gandhi ji; he loves India as Gandhi ji.”
“Most of us love our motherland.”
“If these idiots can just learn to keep their pants up, things would be better,” added Uncle Nakul.
“Don’t fight among yourselves brothers, it is the firangis, they want Pakistan to happen to keep their foot in the subcontinent, maintain their influence, as Maulana Azad says, and in the process have Indians kill each other.” …..
“It is nobody’s fault, ya’ro, it is predestination,” Hasnu interjected; “Grandpa had already foretold it. Ducks had taken over Manasarovar, the lake of swans, it must be cleansed with blood.”
This generated another thread on the bridge:
“Oh yes, in one of his trances after placing his forehead at the feet of Shiva Lingam.”
“Well, we can cleanse it; with the firangi blood”
“No, it must be cleansed with the Indian blood as Bhole Nath revealed it to Grandpa,” Hasnu corrected.
“You are a Muslim; how come you believe in Lord Shiva?”
“Lord Shiva and Allah are both one and the same.”
“There is another Mahatma Gandhi for you.”
“A Muslim Gandhi.”
“And there is Grandpa, a Hindu Gandhi.”
“Nobody knows what Grandpa is, what speaks through him, is it his Bhole Nath, his own father or what.”
“It is ‘or what.’”
“He is only him,” added Hasnu.
“He and his saheli, consort, Champa.”
“Hasan Miyan, until some years back, you weren’t even a Muslim, never even prayed. Now you pray five times a day and go to Mosque every Friday. Now you are a Muslim and a Hindu and who knows what else.”
“When did you become a Muslim, eh Hasnu?”
“I’ll tell you,” said Hasnu.
Everyone looked at him in anticipation.
“I don’t know!” said he throwing his hands in air.
There was silence for a while. Then someone asked, “What about that story we hear that Allah’s Noor struck you straight into your heart as lightening from the sky?”
“I believed it at that time; now I don’t know!”
Hostility against the British rule was rapidly increasing, particularly since the Jallian Walla Bagh Massacre; so were the atrocities against the people. Anyone suspected of lacking loyalty to the Crown was considered a Baghi, a rebel, and tortured to extract confession. ‘Information’ of someone being unsympathetic to the British by a self-appointed informant was sufficient for suspicion and the follow up torture. Ghalib had managed to escape the label Baghi when the British were rounding up the suspected rebels in the aftermath of the 1857 war of independence and hanging them en masse from the tree branches and Khooni Darwaja in Delhi. When Ghalib was asked if he was a Muslim, he replied, “Half a Muslim sir.”
Confused inquiring officer asked the meaning of being half a Muslim.
“I consume alcohol but do not eat pork.”
The officer burst out laughing and declared that he could not be a rebel. Others were not that lucky.
Hasnu, as many others was suspected of being against the British Raj. So Hasnu and several others were tied to the trees and whipped mercilessly. Hasnu claimed later that it was the fourteenth lash when the Noor of Allah from the sky struck him in his heart like lightening and he became a devout Muslim instantly. It may have been the seventeenth or eleventh lash, who knows; Hasnu was too delirious after a few lashes that he wouldn’t, but fourteenth it was to him.
“You don’t know when you became a Muslim. Do you know when you became a Hindu?”
“Not really; it may have something to do with Grandpa and the spider.”
“Grandpa and the spider?”
One day when Grandpa and Hasnu were chatting, a spider crawled by; Hasnu proceeded to step on it; Grandpa stopped him, “No Hasnu, every creature has a role to play on earth, let the spider do what it came on this earth for.”
“What purpose can this lowly insect have? It is only a menace.”
“Lowly insect? If it was not for a spider, there would be no Prophet Mohammed, no Islam and you’d be no Muslim.”
“But that spider was special, sent by Allah, so that it could weave a web to cover the opening to the cave where the Prophet was hiding from his pursuers.”
“Isn’t every creature, everything, placed on earth by Allah? Isn’t every creature especial, with some special purpose? No Hasnu, let every creature live its life, let everything run its course, Bhole Nath has a plan for every life; for everything.”
By that time, the spider was nowhere in sight but the use of the words Allah and Bhole Nath in the same breath struck Hasnu somewhat although nowhere near as the alleged fourteenth lash had.
“Now you make me feel bad for eating meat,” Hasnu lamented.
“And when did you become ‘what else’?”
“What does Grandpa have to say about the partition?”
“Oh yes, he says that the land will be cleansed with our blood but the firangis are sowing the seeds they shall reap, they will have to face the monster they are creating, the monster will bleed us but it will devour them some day.”
“Yes, of course!”
“Do not make fun of Grandpa, he is no ordinary man; at times I see Moses in him,” Hasnu quipped.
“So now he is Hazrat Moosa too!”
Everyone laughed again.
Now there was wrangling about the map in principle. Congress did not want a divided India and Jinnah did not want to divide Punjab and Bengal. Yet that is exactly what happened: India was divided and so were the Punjab and Bengal. But to reach that stage, quite a bit was to be done. Mountbatten wasted no time. He summoned Radcliffe from England and assigned to him the task of partition.
“But one year is too little to accomplish this complex task!” said Radcliffe.
Most of the government officials, civil servants and the politicians were suggesting one year to be devoted to the division and although the situations were quite volatile, the feeling was that it could be contained for another year, which is what Radcliffe had assumed. But “You don’t have one year” was what he heard from Mountbatten. Astonished Radcliffe asked, “How much time do I have?”
Surprisingly, Radcliffe did not faint. He took a ruler and pencil and drew lines on the map; well, not immediately and not literally, but pretty close. By the time Radcliffe got the hang of it, understood the map, only six days remained out of the four weeks’ period. The next two days he and his assistants took in drawing the lines on map. During the remaining four days, some stone pillars were knocked into the ground some miles apart from each other along the demarcation line, if that is what it could be called.
Before the partition, Mountbatten had taken steps to evacuate the British, factory owners, landlords and the government officials. Some of them could be evacuated easily as it required only the arrangement for their passage. For those who had some unmovable property, it was not that easy, but leave they had to. So they unloaded their property cheaply and got out. There were numerous interesting cases of rags to riches as a consequence like the one poor bottle collector. He was a poor man who bought empty bottles for pennies going door to door pushing his trolley. When the trolley would be full, he would push it to the factory several miles away and sell the empties to the factory for refill and sell the brews. By coincidence, he had gotten to know the owner, which he capitalized on to know him closely so much so that he provided him some personal service, free or for small tips and massaging his ego in the process. Some used to jeer him calling him ‘firangi’s poodle, licking master’s feet.’ Now the British owner had to leave in a hurry; so he sold the factory to the bottle collector for free. Well, not exactly; it is just that there was no down payment, no collateral, just an agreement on paper. The fellow had no skills in running a business of this type although he was very good at his own business. However, his lack of knowledge of the business seemed to have done little harm. The system and all the managers were in place and he knew how to manage people. All in all, he had learned enough about this business just by collecting and selling the empties to be able to make sure that it functioned as before. Thus the Bottle Collector became an Industrialist. There were many stories like that. This was not even new. Mohammed Ghauri had left the Sultanate of Delhi to his loyal slave Qutubuddin Ebak establishing the Slave Dynasty in India as had Alexander well before that.
Jinnah hoisted the crescent moon and star in the newly formed Pakistan. The next day at the stroke of midnight, when Nehru hoisted the tricolor and declared the arrival of India to take its rightful place in the community of nations, Gandhi was nowhere to be seen.
“Gandhi is above such things,” some on the Bridge said.
“Congress leaders were sidelining Gandhi for quite some time. Gandhi left Delhi on the pretext of trying to stop riots in the East as a face-saving tactic,” someone else countered.
Humanity as ocean tides moved in both directions, East and West, on both sides of the country, East and West. One of the tides moving from India to Pakistan carried a young boy named Parvez Musharraf; one of the tides moving from Pakistan carried another young boy named Manmohan Singh; both destined to govern their new home nations; but that was many years later; for now, they had to be content to reach their destinations in one piece for the tides were moving but not quietly. One million Hindus and Muslims were slaughtered by each other on the Western border alone in the middle of the former united Punjab. Mahatma Gandhi undertook one of his many fasts to calm the tempers but it did not do that well this time as had on earlier occasions although it did help somewhat. The gangs of Hindus were driving the Muslims out of India and those of the Muslims were driving the Hindus out of Pakistan. Some were not allowed to leave so quietly like the Nawab of Ramapur.
Ramapur was a small princely state ruled, more like owned, by its Nawab, a Muslim, who had a love chamber, more like a sex chamber. He ordered whomsoever he wanted from his kingdom to be brought for his pleasure. Sex obsessed Nawab had hired a number of medicine men who prepared all sorts of concoctions to increase the size of the symbol of his manhood and his appetite. No one knows if they did anything or not but that didn’t matter. Obviously he had neither time nor inclination to look after the matters of the state. His subjects couldn’t wait to get their hands on his neck or worse. The Nawab with his family rode a tide heading towards Pakistan. Some in his kingdom found this out and attacked the railway compartment carrying his family. The whole family was slaughtered gruesomely not far from the departure point. Some would ask, what was the fault of the family? But then, what was the fault of the Tsar Nicholas’s family? And what had the families done to deserve the comfort that came by their association with the Nawab and the Tsar? And what was the fault of their victims? Oh well, tit for tat, let us assume, unless you listened to Gandhi: An eye for an eye, the whole world would be blind. But then nobody was listening to Gandhi those days; not all that well anyway. And nobody really gave a damn to the world, it could as well go blind and even worse, all that they cared.
All this is too well known. What is not so well known is the other side of the coin, albeit a very lopsided coin. At about the same time as Parvez Musharraf was travelling West and Man Mohan Singh, East, another Sikh boy about the same age was travelling East. After the train left Lahore, a large armed gang of Muslims stopped the train intending to kill all the passengers. Unsuccessful negotiations between the armed guarding police and the gang went on for a couple of days. Finally, the train was turned back to Lahore. The boy noticed a railway worker, a Muslim, sitting on a bench on the platform taking his lunch out. The boy, as the others had not eaten for days, not well anyway. Naturally the boy looked at the worker with envy and all the feelings expected in that situation. The worker noticed it and handed over his lunch to the boy as well as some money asking him to give it to his parents so that they could eat that day. The boy didn’t make it to the head of a government of either country but he did manage to be the head of a multi-religious prestigious organization many years later. There were many who went on to be as ordinary as most of the others, some little better, some worse.
It was not uncommon for some to escape while their loved ones got trapped. True or fable, the following tale tells the story, a truth. A boy named Chaman, escaped, while his girlfriend Leelo, got trapped in Lahore. Yes, yes, there was no dating there those days but given the human nature, it has existed under cover during all ages; remember the legendary lovers like Laila-Maznoon, Heer-Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal, Mirza-Sahiba, and many others. In this story, Chaman knew the danger he had escaped from but he had to go back to face the same for he could not leave his love Leelo behind and so he did return disguised as a Muslim street vegetable vendor. He went for days from street to street, yelling, “Potatoes, tomatoes, peas, ..., leelo, fresh from chaman.” By his luck, “leelo” could be construed as his accented way of saying ‘lelo,’ ‘come get’em.’ Conjurer of the story may have selected the names, Leelo and a synonym of garden to create this coincidence. Leelo on the other hand was trapped in a Muslim household. She had been pressured to convert to Islam and was slated to be married to a Muslim boy. She heard the voice together with his and her names. She had given up hope of ever escaping and she was essentially resigned to her upcoming future, which helped her winning the trust of her host family. By that time, she was allowed go out in the street. She came out with an excuse to buy some vegetables. After that, that street became Chaman’s usual selling venue and he, her favorite vegetable vendor. It took some time but they both managed to escape and later became folk heroes, so much so that the story is still being re-enacted frequently in the folk theatres in the countryside. Chaman proved to be a much better street vendor than had Amir.
Twin nations, albeit lopsided, were born out of the Mother India but by a cesarean section and of a very brutal kind.
“On the Banks of the Ganges”