India just celebrated the 70th anniversary of its freedom struggle and its independence from 200 years of colonial rule. Like each time, the country had decked itself up in fineries for the celebration of the Independence Day. But this is also the time when many across the borders relive the horrific nightmares of Partition and the carnage that ensued after India won its ‘tryst with destiny’ and was ushered into the era of independence.
After Partition, millions of Muslims were compelled to move to Pakistan whereas millions of the Hindus and Sikhs moved to India. Both India and Pakistan abound in people who spend each day in the thought of visiting their hometown which is on the other side of the border. Years have passed, the mortal remains have been razed to dust, but the memories are still alive – and so is the pain that is still gnawing at the roots of so many displaced hearts.
One such story is that of Krishna Kumar Khanna, who grew up in Lahore, currently Pakistan’s second largest city. His yearning of visiting his hometown in Pakistan was finally fulfilled after seven long decades.
92-year-old Khanna broke down in tears while he tried to explain the aftermath of the partition in an interview with Al Jazeera. “Men were no longer men, they had turned into beasts in both the sides of the border,” he commented while wiping his tears. Misty-eyed, he talked of the innumerable rapes and the murders that took place at that point in time.
Flipping through the pages of the photographs from a time long lost, Khanna mused that he was 22 when he had to leave his home town in Sheikhupura, Pakistan. “I came to India sitting on top of the train, fearing every moment that I would fall and die. Well, death came easy at that time – among all those who were travelling on foot, only a few survived.”
Khanna had been trying to get hold of a visa to visit Pakistan but he was unable to do so due to several bureaucratic problems. Khanna sounded aggrieved when he said that the officials had asked him for reasons to go to Pakistan – it was difficult as well as painful for him to make them understand that he merely wished to visit his childhood home and relive his childhood memories.
Not just the government officials, but also Khanna’s family members were not very keen on this trip; his wife did not wish that he went to Pakistan but in the end gave in to his demands.
However, finally, after Khanna got the visa, his younger brother and nephew accompanied him on his trip to Pakistan.
The Indo-Pak border is one of the most militarised in the world. The Indian guards at the borders too were dismayed by Khanna’s enthusiasm to visit Pakistan and went to the extent of listing down the problems the country has. However, Khanna was not to be dissuaded.
“Punjab has similar weather – the scent from the soil; the people are the same as that of Punjab.”
Khanna got emotional as he breathed in the fresh air of the country which was once his home; he thanks God for taking him till here. Travelling through the streets of Lahore, Khanna relived old memories of his childhood and youth.
Sheikhupura is placed at a distance of 80 kms from Lahore. Khanna and his family traveled to see the house that they had to leave behind because of partition.
Khanna was able to locate the house, and simultaneously he was reminded of the horrific night where he had seen gory deaths. “We had to pay a heavy price for the freedom,” he said.
While taking a tour of the house after the current residents had consented, Khanna was musing at the changes that have been made in the house.
His brother wished to come back after the visit to the house was made, but Khanna wanted to wait for two-three more days. That was, however, not possible because the visa did not permit that.
The trio went to Khanna’s old school where old memories were freshened up – “I had once bunked my classes to listen to Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech,” he added smilingly. He interacted with the present students of the school and told them,”It is the government that hates each other; the people only have love in their hearts.”
In spite of his desire to stay longer in his hometown, Khanna had to leave for India. He was warmly greeted by his family back home who had numerous questions for him about Pakistan.
On being asked about ‘terrorism’, Khanna promptly replied, “I was embraced with open arms by the people there, I did not feel any terror.”
It is through the stories of Khanna and much more that we are reminded each time about the pangs of partition. We might be busy celebrating Independence Day by hoisting flags, listening to patriotic speeches or simply by enjoying an extended weekend but there are still many whose only wish to see their place of birth once before they die. These stories and memories would soon get lost in the vicissitudes of time if not preserved with care.