I grew with grandparents on my Ma’s side of the family impacted by the Partition. My Ma and I, even though she grew up in Bombay (it is Bombay), and me in Muscat, we have had the ‘Bangal’ dialect and the cuisine including shukti mach, a dried fish eaten in East Bengal homes, as an integral part of the bond between us since ages. After Partition, the shukti mach has become a salient reminder of the homes that were lost due to the tragic event 74 years back.
Partition has spurned an intellectual industry of remembrances and reminders, however for Punjab and Bengal and the Sindhis, it is very much real. May be two decades from now, Partition would be a chapter in a book. Partition is a reminder of a South Asia that could have been, as millions moved across lands in the single, blood-drenched event and suffered and died with all the unimaginable horrors. If you have not been a part of the transgenerational trauma, then, if it not merely an act of moving on, it at least guides one’s sensibility.
For me, however, it is a life frame.
Walking into a Bangladeshi restaurant in Little India/Dhaka prescient and being able to eat shukti mach bhorta and dal is an act of time travel. For me, the additional chimes in the Bangal dialect are a connection to a fabric of space and time which my grandparents were a part of. My poite-wearing Nana jee spoke the dialect at home even though he was brought up in Barisal, educated in Bristol,and a corporate oil man at Burma Shell/BPCL.
There is another fork in the Partition narrative- which is of being raised in the Gulf where Pakistani references was a regular, lived experience. In the mid 1990s, Zee TV used to broadcast Pakistani TV drama programmes, and PTV used to be free to air in Muscat. My father refused to pay for satellite TV, and I managed to catch the 1999 World Cup in the UK thanks to PTV. Shoaib Akhtar steaming in, and Dada hitting a cover drive at Taunton is a memory etched in time.
For a long time, men in salwar kameez with a macho Pajero was a stereotype of wealth and masculinity. My favorite meal even now is Nihari and Naan at Karachi Darbar in Dubai and Muscat. Haleem during Ramadan Iftar meals is yearned for. Growing up with Pakistani Muhajir neighbours next door from Sadar Bazaar, Karachi who used to share chaste Punjabi expletives bordering on anti-Indian, when my military medium fast one in an off-break action castled the middle stump, was quite a seamless experience. In my teens, I realised Partition was there, very much alive and kicking, even during a taped tennis ball cricket game on sand in Al Khuwair in the late 1990s. But it was also a reminder of commonalities, from cricket to shared Partition family histories.
In the Khaleej, Partition is a spectre hanging, and it is also a snapshot of what non-Partition South Asia could have been. In the Gulf, South Asia lives and operates, even today, as if Partition never happened. I worked in an environmental firm which had seniors from Lahore, who have been fabulous mentors to me, with banter as if they were from Delhi. I received my best professional engineering advice from them.
Partition every year entails Independence Day for both countries. Yet, it is also a reminder that it is a lived experience and that Independence from the British came at a dire cost for the Bengali, Punjabi, and Sindhi.
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